Mystics open up a tough road trip in search of consistency

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LOS ANGELES — Coach Mike Thibault made it simple, though he knows it’s not because he was sitting on court at the Arena hours before his Washington Mystics n open a three-game road trip out West against the Los Angeles Sparks. His team looked like one of the best in the league at times, with wins against the top three clubs in the table. The group also had some disastrous moments, including Thursday’s loss to a New York Liberty team that started the season 1-7.

Consistency has been a pervasive issue for these 2022 Mystics.

“Well, that’s interesting. It helps when you have your full lineup,” Thibault said. “That’s what we had on Sunday. We had the full lineup. We had a day to prepare well. It was the only full day we had to prepare in the previous eight or nine days, shortly matter. … I think consistency comes with consistency in your lineup, consistency in some prep time. And then if you shoot the ball better [you look] consistent too.

“I don’t have any simple answers to that at the moment, other than you try to prepare the same thing, and we had very extensive preparation from a film perspective for that. But we don’t have the same composition today.

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It’s no surprise that the Mystics are and should be different when Elena Delle Donne isn’t playing. The team takes a cautious approach with their backs and are diligent in handling their load. She did not make the trip to Los Angeles due to a scheduled day off. Delle Donne missed seven games heading into Tuesday’s contest and the team are 3-4 in his absence, although they beat defending champion Chicago Sky despite leaving after playing just over seven minutes when his back tightened. The two-time MVP leads the team in points and blocks per game and is second in rebounds per game. When she’s not available, the team naturally misses her.

The inconsistency of the lineup, however, goes beyond Delle Donne. Ariel Atkins, Myisha Hines-Allen and Shakira Austin are the only players to have appeared in all Mystics games. Prior to Sunday’s win over the Connecticut Sun, the starting lineup of Delle Donne, Shakira Austin, Atkins, Alysha Clark and Natasha Cloud had played together for a total of 35 minutes. Injuries, covid and overseas commitments have also kept players out of training.

I think we’re learning to deal with it,” Atkins said. “It’s not something you really want to get used to. But at the end of the day, that’s kind of what it is. … Just take care of it.

“As [Clark] said, if we lock him in on the defensive side, the offensive side will come.

Clark, a two-time selection while on defense, preaching defense as a way to gain some consistency isn’t a shock either. She wants the Mystics to be the best defensive team in the league. They lead the WNBA in defensive rating (94.9) and points allowed per game (74.6). The points are the fewest the team has allowed since the 2015 season.

This is what made the recent Liberty and Mercury losses particularly frustrating – too many defensive lapses.

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“I think just understanding that defense is what fuels us,” Clark said. “It doesn’t matter who is in the lineup, as long as everyone is hanging in there and buying into it, I think you can start to see a bit more consistency.ncy.

That consistency will be much needed this week as there won’t be time for real workouts on a trip to Los Angeles, Seattle and Las Vegas. Matches take place every other day, and the team will mostly be watching videos and trying to recover as much as possible on travel days. Not only is the schedule brutal, but the group will also be tested by the Aces (13-2), who have the WNBA’s best record, and a Storm team (10-6) with the fourth-best record in the league.

The Sparks, however, represent a two-win chance – sort of. The Mystics are eligible to trade their first-round picks to the Atlanta Dream after trading the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft. The Dream selected Rhyne Howard while the Mystics moved back to No. 3 and took Austin. That first-round pick will come from the Sparks (5-9), so Washington encourages them to drop games for a chance at a higher pick in 2023. The Mystics can affect this Tuesday night.

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