Series Preview: Mystics vs. Fever

Back on May 5th, the Washington Mystics entered Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indiana for playoff basketball. No, they wouldn’t be playing that night, but rather watching from a suite as the Washington Wizards were getting set to face the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The ‘Stics were in town for their first preseason game of the year against the Fever the following afternoon, but first went to support their NBA counterparts. The Wizards went on to win Game 1 that night, 102-96, though would lose that series in six games, ending their season.

Now, it’s the Mystics time to shine in the midwest. A chance to get redemption on the city of Indiana.

It’s funny how things work out, but 3.5 months later the Mystics will be back in that same building, this time playing Game 1 of their own playoff series.

“It’s kind of interesting, we played an early preseason game in Indy and here we are going back to start the playoffs there. We got to watch the Wizards during that time… now it’s our turn,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault.

Season Series

Not that it meant much, but the Mystics played the Fever for a back-to-back series in the preseason, once in Indiana as mentioned earlier and the next day at Verizon Center. They won both of those contests and then went 2-2 against the Fever during the regular season.

May 23 @ Indiana – Mystics 79 – Fever 63

Game Info | Photos

The Mystics cruised to a 16 point victory in the first matchup of the regular season. Four Mystics finished in double figures, led by rookie Bria Hartley’s 15 points. The Mystics nearly doubled up the Fever on points in the paint (38-20) and afterwards, Thibault said “We were able to push the tempo and got a lot of people involved in the offense early so (Indiana) could not lock in on one or two people.”


June 6 vs. Indiana – Fever 64 – Mystics 61

Game Info | Photos

In the second matchup of the season, the Fever returned the favor by beating the Mystics on their home floor, 64-61. Led by the local product and former Mystic Marissa Coleman’s 20 points, the Fever won this game with their defense. Despite shooting just 35%, they held the ‘Stics to 30% shooting to win this low-scoring affair. The Mystics had a 16 point lead in the first half, but the Fever chipped away and came back to steal this one. Making it even more impressive was they did so without their starting point guard, Briann January.


July 2 vs. Indiana – Fever 80 – Mystics 77

Game Info | Photos

The two teams met again at Verizon Center on July 2nd, and once again it was the road team who came away with the win. The Fever scored 31 points in the 2nd quarter and went on to shoot 53% for the game to win their second game of the year at Verizon Center. The Fever won this game inside, as Natasha Howard (20p) and Erlana Larkins (16p) led the Fever with a combined 36 points and 11 boards.


August 8th @ Indiana – Mystics 74 – Fever 61

Game Info | Photos

The Mystics would even the season series at 2-2 with a 74-61 win in Indiana in the fourth and final meeting of the season. Kia Vaughn had one of her best games of the season, scoring 22 points and pulling down eight boards in the win. The Mystics shot 48% for the game and held the Fever to just 36% shooting.


Both these teams finished the season at 16-18, but because the Fever finished with a better conference record (12-10 compared to 11-11), the Fever have home court advantage and will open the series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday.

But what does that really mean? In the regular season, neither team was able to beat the other at home, both finishing 2-0 on the road and 0-2 at home in their four games.

In fact, both teams finished with below .500 records at home during the regular season (Indiana 7-10, Washington 8-9), while the Fever finished above .500 playing on the road (9-8).

Last season, the Mystics went on the road to beat the Atlanta Dream in Game 1, only to come home and lose Game 2 at Verizon Center.

So while any player or coach would tell you they’d rather be playing at home, in this series the Mystics may not be at too big of a disadvantage playing without home court.

The irony, the same could be said about their NBA counterparts, the Wizards, who went 5-1 on the road in the playoffs but just 1-4 at home. If the Mystics are to win this series, they’ll have to win at least one game on the road. Which based on this season should not seem too far-fetched.

Mystics Playoff Schedule
Game 1 – Thu. Aug. 21 Washington at Indiana 7:00PM ESPN2
Game 2 – Sat. Aug. 23 Indiana at Washington 5:00PM ESPN2
Game 3 * Mon. Aug. 25 Washington at Indiana TBD NBATV

*if necessary

Projected Lineups:
Mystics – PG – Latta, SG – Hartley, SF – Currie, PF – Meesseman, C- Vaughn
Fever – PG – January, SG – Zellous, SF – Coleman, PF – Catchings, C- Larkins

How They Match Up

Guards


Washington will primarily use four guards in the series; two-time all-star Ivory Latta, rookie Bria Hartley, second year combo guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, and veteran Kara Lawson.

Ivory Latta is the team’s leading scorer (12.8) and leader in assists (3.3). Her 81 3-pointers made set a franchise record this year. She’s the engine behind the Mystics offense and the one true point guard on the roster. It goes without saying that the team needs her to play well to win this series.

Bria Hartley, who became the Mystics starting two-guard about two weeks into the season, also will need to play a big role in the series. She may be the biggest wild card of the bunch, but when she’s on she’s capable of being the best player on the court. She can handle the ball, shoot the ball, and her best trait may be her speed and work in the transition game, something she’s used to her advantage throughout her rookie campaign.

Off the bench, look for the Mystics to use both Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Kara Lawson, who could both play critical roles in this series. TRP, now in her second year, can guard multiple positions on the floor and is someone who plays well in tough, grind-it-out series that this one may become. Lawson is the veteran of the bunch and has more playoff experience than the other three combined. She’s almost always the smartest player on the floor and the team will need her savviness against a fundamentally sound team like Indiana.

Indiana will get the majority of their minutes in the backcourt from Briann January, Shavonte Zellous, and Karima Christmas, who can play the two or the three for the Fever. Off the bench, look for Layshia Clarendon, Sydney Carter, and the rookie Maggie Lucas.

Indiana has become synonymous for its tough defense and it starts with their point guard, Briann January. She’s been voted to back-to-back all-defensive teams and for good reason. She’s about as tough a perimeter defender as you’ll find in the league and that will be a key to this series.

Last year, Shavonte Zellous was the recipient of the 2013 Most Improved Player Award and while her numbers dipped a bit this season, she remains to be a real threat playing off the ball. She has a combination of speed and explosiveness and can be dangerous when she gets in the lane.

Christmas can play either in the backcourt or the frontcourt and is another big guard who can really get after it on the defensive end and on the glass. She was originally drafted by the Mystics, but has now become a key role player in the Fever’s system.

Clarendon, Lucas, and Carter will all compete for those remaining minutes, though in the playoffs rotations often get cut so they may see limited time.

Forwards/Centers

Washington will primarily use Emma Meesseman, Monique Currie, Kia Vaughn, Stef Dolson, Tianna Hawkins and Jelena Milovanovic.

Since about week two of the season, Currie, Meesseman, and Vaughn have started nearly every game together and will likely all get the starting nods in this series. Currie and Vaughn are veterans to the league and the playoffs and the Mystics will need to lean on their experience against a very seasoned Fever team.

Currie is best at getting to the free-throw line (140 free-throws attempted) and against a team that fouls a lot like Indiana, she may play a critical role in helping the Mystics get easy points.

Vaughn brings that edge every teams needs in the paint and that will be huge against a physical team like Indiana. She had a season-high 22 points against the Fever two weeks ago in Indiana.

The wild card of the bunch could be Meesseman, who is up for Most Improved Player this year after bursting onto the scene. She averaged 10.1 ppg and 6.4 rpg, while starting all 34 games for the ‘Stics. She has a very high basketball IQ, outstanding footwork, and led the team with five double doubles this year. The coaches usually want her to be more aggressive and shoot more often, which the team will need for her to do in the postseason to be successful.

To match the Fever toughness inside, the Mystics will likely use a lot of Stefanie Dolson and Tianna Hawkins off the bench, two young players, but two that can really help out on the boards. Neither have any playoff experience, which could play a factor against a veteran team like Indiana, but as Coach Thibault said after practice on Tuesday, “sometimes ignorance is bliss.”

Indiana will primarily use Tamika Catchings, Marissa Coleman, Erlana Larkins, Natasha Howard, and Lynetta Kizer.

This group may not be the most athletic frontcourt in the league, but they make up for that with their toughness, tenacity, and leadership which stems from their all-everything Tamika Catchings. A former MVP, she’s a veteran in this league who by herself may give the Fever the edge in the intangibles category. She’s a winner in every sense, on the court and off, and is the type of person you want to go to battle with in a playoff series. She’s also quite a talent, despite playing in just about half of their games, she led the Fever in scoring with 16.1 ppg, while shooting 45% from the floor. She’s the first player mentioned anytime the Fever are brought up and for good reason, she could be the difference-maker in this series. The Mystics will need to match her intensity at all times, which often times rubs off on her teammates.

Coleman is someone Mystics fans are very familiar with as they brought her into the league and watched her play her first three seasons here in DC. She can really stroke it from the perimeter and is a player that is prone to get hot, so she’ll be someone to keep an eye on when the Fever need bucket.

Larkins is the Fever’s best rebounder (9.2 rpg) and she shoots 60% from the field, as most of her buckets come around the rim. She can be a real beast inside and her head-to-head battle with Kia Vaughn will be a fun one to watch.

Howard is their first round pick from the 2014 draft and has already shown she can play against the Mystics. She led the Fever with 20 points in their win at Verizon Center in July and is an athletic PF who can do multiple things well.

Kizer is another familiar name as she played her college ball up the road at Maryland and is a solid rebounder who also brings toughness to this Fever bench.

Coaches

Washington – Mike Thibault

Not much needs to be said about Mystics head coach Mike Thibault, the winningest coach in WNBA history. He has all the experience one would want when it comes to this time of year and there’s no doubt he’ll have his squad ready for postseason play.

Indiana – Linn Dunn

Linn Dunn is another legend when it comes to coaching in the WNBA and this will be her last go around as she announced that she’ll be retiring at the end of this season. She led the Fever to a WNBA Championship in 2012.

It’s hard to say there’s really any edge in the coaching department, both these coaches are as experienced as they come so it likely will come down to which team executes better on both sides of the ball.