The Washington Mystics will not make their WNBA postseason debut until Tuesday, Sept. 17, when they host the lowest remaining seed after Sunday’s second-round games. By all accounts, they will be heavy favorites against any team they face due to their historically great offensive efficiency.
As great as this season has been for Mystics fans from a statistical standpoint, the team are also opportunistic leaders. Washington benefited from a battle of attrition as superstars from other teams have sat out most of, if not all of, this year’s regular season.
Though the Mystics are firing on all cylinders, they have also lost to each of the five remaining teams in the playoffs. Let’s evaluate each of the remaining teams and determine how much of a chance they have of pulling it off.
No. 2 Connecticut Sun
Head-to-head record vs. Mystics: 2-1
When would the Sun face the Mystics? The Finals; the Sun are the other team awaiting a semifinals opponent.
Why can the Sun win? Of the remaining playoff teams, the Sun are the only one with a winning regular-season record against Washington. And like the Mystics, the Sun have a deep frontcourt duo of Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas. In Connecticut’s wins on May 25 and June 11, either Jones or Thomas scored 20 or more points and the team held Washington to 40.8 percent shooting or less.
Connecticut’s starting backcourt of Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams will also pose problems for Washington. Both score over 24 combined points a game and are good three-point shooters, which will keep Washington on its toes. If the Mystics and Sun make the WNBA Finals, the Sun will have an advantage in the backcourt if Kristi Toliver is limited.
The Sun haven’t played the Mystics since their 102-59 road loss on June 29, so there is also an “unknown” factor at play. How will these two teams fare if they play each other again three months later?
Why can’t the Sun win? The Mystics won 16 of their last 18 regular season games and finished on a six-game winning streak. The Sun were in striking distance of the Mystics for first place in the regular season until they lost their last two games. Washington has also gone on a deep playoff run from the single-game elimination rounds for each of the last two years. The Sun team haven’t advanced to the semifinals (then the Eastern Conference Finals) since 2012.
Do the Sun have a real shot to upset the Mystics? Despite the late slump, absolutely. Of the teams remaining in the playoff hunt, the Sun have the deepest roster and their starting lineup played every game together as one unit.
No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks
Head-to-head record vs. Mystics: 1-2
When would the Sparks face the Mystics? The Finals; the only playoff team LA could meet in the semifinals is the Sun.
Why can the Sparks win? Los Angeles has the WNBA’s third-best defense at 95.8 points per 100 possessions and fourth-best offense at 99.3 points per 100 possessions. They also blew out the Mystics at home on July 7. In that game, Nneka Ogwumike scored 31 points and Riquna Williams scored 19. The Sparks have a strong balance between frontcourt and backcourt scorers, which could make things more difficult for the Mystics on defense.
Why can’t the Sparks win? The Sparks defeated the Mystics in a game where Delle Donne played just one minute due to a broken nose and where Emma Meesseman was not with the team. The Mystics beat the Sparks in their remaining their head-to-head games by 29-point margins. The Sparks lost 81-52 at home on June 18 and 95-66 on the road on Aug. 27.
Do the Sparks have a real shot to upset the Mystics? Yes, but not as much as Connecticut. If Candace Parker can regain her prime form for the postseason though, then watch out!
No. 4 Las Vegas Aces
Head-to-head record vs. Mystics: 1-2
When would the Aces face the Mystics? If the Storm defeat the Sparks in the second round, then in the Finals. Otherwise, they’d face the Mystics in the semifinals.
Why can the Aces win? The Mystics have the WNBA’s best offense, but the Aces have the league’s best defense at 95 points per 100 possessions. Though neither were named to the WNBA All-Defensive Team, A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage are a tough frontcourt duo to score against, averaging over 32 combined points per game.
Finally, Las Vegas had an 85-81 road win against Washington on July 14, holding Washington to 38.9 percent shooting and 7-of-28 from the three-point line. If the Aces can contain the Mystics’ shooting from distance, it could be enough to earn an upset.
Why can’t the Aces win? The Mystics’ offense could be shut down in any one game, but it’s difficult to see them shut down for a long stretch of time. Washington won 95-72 on June 20 without Emma Meesseman and 99-70 on Aug. 5 in the conclusion of the earthquake-delayed game. The Mystics’ scoring options are diverse and they truly aren’t dependent on any one player.
Do the Aces have a real shot to upset the Mystics? If their defense contains Washington throughout most of the series, then it’s possible that the Aces could make things interesting.
No. 5 Chicago Sky
Head-to-head Record vs. Mystics: 1-3
When would the Sky face the Mystics? Like above, if the Storm defeat the Sparks in the second round, then in the Finals. Otherwise, they’d face the Mystics in the semifinals.
Why can the Sky win? The Sky have the most recent win against the Mystics. On Aug. 23, they won 85-78 at home despite an off-night from Allie Quigley. They also held the Mystics to 35.6 percent shooting.
Like the Sun, the Sky have an advantage in the backcourt against the Mystics with Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot. Along with leading scorer Diamond DeShields, Chicago has the WNBA’s second-best offense at 101.6 points per 100 possessions. If they get really hot while keeping Washington contained, they could win a game or two in a five-game series.
Why can’t the Sky win? Washington won the remaining three games in their head-to-head series, including a 100-86 thumping in the regular-season finale on Sept. 8.
Do the Sky have a real shot to upset the Mystics? The Sky got the ghost of Delle Donne off their backs after beating the Mystics at home last month, but it’s difficult to see them winning three games in a five-game series.
No. 6 Seattle Storm
Head-to-head record vs. Mystics: 1-2
When would the Storm face the Mystics? The semifinals; the Storm are the lowest remaining playoff seed.
Why can the Storm win? The Mystics were 14-3 at home this season and lost a close 74-71 game to the defending WNBA champions on June 14. Natasha Howard scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in that win. Howard averaged 23 points per game against Washington this season.
Why can’t the Storm win? The Mystics blew out the Storm 99-79 on Aug. 2 and 88-59 on Aug. 14 as they were getting into prime form. As good as Howard is, Washington’s primary frontcourt trio of Delle Donne, Meesseman and LaToya Sanders will probably be too much to overcome.
Do the Storm have a real shot to upset the Mystics? Not really. The Storm may be the defending WNBA champions, but they won the title last year with 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird playing major roles. Both Stewart and Bird are sitting out this season. Howard, Jewell Loyd and the rest of the Storm are punching above their weight. Even if they beat the Sparks on Sunday, the Storm’s playoff run will likely end in the semifinals.