Mystics Look to Start New Streak in Phoenix

Almost nine months ago, the fate of the Washington Mystics organization laid in the hands of a few ping-pong ball wielding officials. It seemed as though the Mystics were destined for a top pick in the Draft after a rocky season. Fans were hoping Brittany Griner, Elena Delle Donne, or Skylar Diggins would come to D.C. and change the face of the organization.

Instead, the basketball gods chose Phoenix, Chicago, and Tulsa before Washington, the team with the most chances for the coveted top overall spot.

267 days later, the Mystics are doing just fine without the so-called Big Three; in fact, they are thriving. Rather than rely on just one top ranked rookie, the Mystics have counted on four to help make an impact this season. First round pick Tayler Hill has yet to really get going offensively, but she is already one of the team’s top perimeter defenders. Both Emma Meesseman and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt have provided solid minutes off the bench, while Nadira McKenith has been a nice change of pace point guard in limited minutes. They have helped the Mystics turn themselves into a contender in the East.

Mike Thibault has not gotten ahead of himself however, as he knows his team is still young and learning.

“We’re gonna go through some growing pains,” Thibault said. “But I think we’re capable of correcting mistakes quickly.”

So far this season, the Mystics are 4-2, only two victories away from surpassing their win total from all of last year. In the past two weeks, the Mystics have beaten both of last season’s WNBA Finals teams. And last Monday, Ivory Latta was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the first time a Mystic has received the award since the 2010 season.

Things are looking up for this team, first pick or not, but the Mystics will be tested this week by what -- or who -- the lottery balls did not provide them. On Friday, the Mystics travel to Phoenix to face the celebrated first pick Brittney Griner and the Mercury.

The vertically gifted Griner was one of the most heralded players in history coming out of Baylor and has proven herself worth of that title, averaging 14.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game in her inaugural WNBA season. At 6’ 8” she is a physical presence against any team and can be extremely difficult to match up with due to her size and wingspan.

Phoenix’s had their three game win streak snapped on Wednesday night in a home loss to Minnesota. But prior to that, they could attribute much of their recent success to current Western Conference Player of the Week, Diana Taurasi. The Mercury guard leads the league in points, with 23.7 per game, along with 3.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.

This dangerous tandem of players could be a problem for Coach Mike Thibault and his players, who are coming off a 96-86 overtime loss to the Seattle Storm. Crystal Langhorne posted 23 points in Seattle on Monday, shooting 9 of 13 from the field, and Matee Ajavon put up 17 points off the bench.

“We’ve been in a lot of close games,” Ajavon said. “Every game is a learning experience and we just have to be better. We have two more games on the road so it’s going to be a long trip. We have to get a few wins.”

The Mystics play their second of three games in Phoenix and will head to Los Angeles to play the Sparks before returning home to take on Griner, Taurasi, and the Mercury for the second time in a week. Both teams just had three game winning streaks snapped and will look to start a new streak on Friday night.

Coach Thibault’s new team continues to exceed expectations, but whether they can defeat the team who ended up with the one of the biggest first picks in the history of the Draft remains to be seen.

Monumental Network (www.monumentalnetwork.com) will broadcast the upcoming game against the Phoenix Mercury on Friday, June 21, at 10:00 p.m. ET. Monumental Network will be the only place to see the game live and free of charge to viewers within a 75-mile radius of Washington, D.C.