There are no easy wins in the WNBA. The Mystics can tell you that after hitting the road with a 4-1 record and coming home 4-4.
They didn’t get blown out in any of their three losses and two of the teams that beat them are two of the league’s best. But those facts provide little comfort to a team that knows there will always be another talented opponent standing in the way of snapping losing streaks.
In the case of their current losing streak, Phoenix is the next team standing in the way – the same Phoenix team that has already contributed to the streak by beating the Mystics, 90-82, last Friday.
The Mercury (5-4) came into the season as the favorite to win the WNBA championship, but the Mystics held their own against them last Friday and perhaps being at home will make the difference between an eight-point loss and a win.
But while they are 2-1 at their place, both of Washington’s wins at home have been extremely close. So it is hard to say this early in the season that the Mystics are a great home team. But the Verizon Center crowd has been good to them and with Brittney Griner coming to town there should be a lot of people interested in attending Thursday night’s game.
The Mystics were the first WNBA team to surrender 20 or more points to Griner, after Brittney had failed to reach that mark against five other teams. The Mystics allowed 52 combined points from Griner and Diana Taurasi, the highest combined total for that duo thus far. However, Washington did hold Mercury guard/forward DeWanna Bonner, who was the second leading scorer in the WNBA last year, to her second lowest scoring output of the season (7).
Michelle Snow is the tallest player on the Mystics at 6-5. Griner is 6-8. So it’s not surprising that she gave Snow and the rest of the Mystics a tough time last Friday, but somehow the Mystics have to try and contain her. The only problem is that if they help on Griner, that leaves the door open for Taurasi to do more damage.
And Taurasi can really make you pay. She was the four-time reigning WNBA scoring champ before playing in just eight games last year and surrendering that title to Angel McCoughtry. But she is right back at it this year and led the league in scoring through her first eight games.
Griner scored a career-high 26 points Tuesday night at San Antonio and is certainly capable of scoring far more as her career goes on. However, the veteran Taurasi in her tenth season is still the Mercury’s most dangerous scorer as of right now with point totals of 28, 29, 31 and 34 already this year.
The Mystics are going to need Ivory Latta to bounce back from a five-point performance against Los Angeles this past Sunday if they want to keep up with Phoenix. Two of the Mystics’ wins have come when both teams scored in the 60s. Well, the Mercury are averaging 84.4 points per game. They also allow 85.1 points per game though. So the Mystics may be forced to win a high-scoring affair.
That is why Latta playing well will be crucial, as will Crystal Langhorne’s performance. Langhorne scored just four points in the Mystics’ lost to Phoenix, as she and Latta alternated scoring in double figures the entire road trip.
The Mystics have also received some reassuring signs from rookie guard Tayler Hill, who scored 16 points and was incredibly efficient from the field in the team’s loss to the Sparks. For some reason the team seemed to perform better when Hill and her fellow rookies were on the floor than when Latta and Langhorne were. If the Mystics want to start winning some games comfortably, they will need to get good runs out of their starters and their bench to really create some breathing room.
Speaking of starters, it will be interesting to see if Mike Thibault keeps Tayler Hill out of the starting lineup after doing so got her out of her slump. At this point in the season, Matee Ajavon is still probably having a bigger overall impact on the team, but Tayler Hill is a flat out scorer once she gets going. And of course, Thibault may not even want to put the better player in the starting lineup, depending on if he wants to go the Manu Ginobili or James Harden route.
It is also up in the air whether Michelle Snow or Kia Vaughn will start at center for Washington. Vaughn, like Hill, was pulled out of the starting lineup for the first time all season last Sunday and scored four points off the bench. Both she and Snow are averaging right around five to six points on the season.
Regardless of who is starting, Thursday is going to come down to the Mystics getting solid contributions from their entire roster.
It is going to be one heck of a challenge going up against Brittney Griner. Her team got off to a slow start, but, unfortunately for the Mystics in the immediate future, she has looked like the Brittney Griner she was expected to be in her past two games.