Coming out of the All-Star break after debut all-star appearances from Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman, the Mystics host the Seattle Storm Wednesday at 11:30 am at Verizon Center. With eight days of rest without a game for the players that did not travel to Uncasville, Connecticut for the All-Star festivities, Washington is well rested and looking to continue the momentum it carried into the break.
“[We’re] making sure we’re coming out here competing, pushing each other and we’re focused all the time,” center Stefanie Dolson said. “[We’re] not taking any team for granted and [we’ll] just keeping playing our game.”
The team entered the mid-season hiatus on a three game winning streak that they hope to extend Wednesday. Currently in third in the East (9-6), the Mystics will take on the struggling Seattle Storm, who at 5-13 are fifth in the West. Although Washington has been hot and cold at home, with a 5-3 record, the Storm have been abysmal on the road at 1-8.
Seattle has been led this season by Sue Bird and Crystal Langhorne. Bird, who is averaging a team-high 10.3 points per game and a league-high 5.5 assists, is a two-time WNBA Champion, nine-time All-Star, three-time Olympic gold medalist and was named one of the 15 greatest players in WNBA History in 2011. Langhorne, a former Mystic and University of Maryland forward, is averaging 10.2 points and a team-high 6.2 boards per game. Despite being the team’s leading rebounder and second behind Bird in scoring, Langhorne is averaging the lowest numbers of her seven-year career since her rookie season.
Langhorne was selected sixth in the first round of the 2008 WNBA Draft by Washington. She was a two-time All-Star selection and the 2009 WNBA Most Improved Player in her career with the Mystics. A fan favorite, the forward was traded to Seattle in 2014 in return for Tianna Hawkins and Bria Hartley.
Seattle recently participated in another trade acquiring two-time WNBA Champion Monica Wright from the Lynx. The Storm sent Minnesota guard Renee Montgomery as well as a 2016 second round draft pick. Wright is sidelined indefinitely after undergoing an arthroscopy on her right knee in mid-July.
The Seattle/Washington matchup will certainly be unique. Oddly, while the Storm are averaging the least points per game in the league, the team boasts the fourth highest field goal percentage (43%). As Coach Thibault has lamented for much of the season, the Mystics have not been stellar on the boards, but Seattle has been even worse, currently last in rebounding in the WNBA. However, the Storm share Washington’s strength of unselfish play. The Mystics are leading the league in assists with 18.3 per game and Seattle is close behind at third in the league, averaging 17.1. Bird is leading all players posting 5.5 assists on average.
After a slower July, Washington will begin a grueling end to the season with multiple games every week through September. With the last place Dream only five games back from the first place Liberty, the Eastern Conference is wide open.
“For me personally, I think it’s a start of another season. I’m trying to bring a concentration and an energy like I did at the beginning of the season because everybody in the East can still win” Meesseman said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re last or first, everybody can still be in the playoffs. So, it’s kind of a new start.”
For Washington center Kia Vaughn, Wednesday’s game certainly is a completely new start. Out since June 12th with a concussion, Vaughn will be eligible to play for the first time since her only appearance at the beginning of the season. A starter in the early game versus the Dream, Vaughn added nine points, five rebounds and two assists for the Mystics. Dolson has filled in since Vaughn’s injury, but her re-addition to Washington’s active roster will augment the already deep frontcourt.
“She’s going to play, she’s clear to go…that’s a huge boost for our depth,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “The other day we’re in foul trouble against Tulsa, and Stef and Emma both end the game with five fouls, so that gives us one more post player that’s a high level player to defend the paint.”
The Mystics also have depth at the guard position and Thibault recently shook up the starting lineup in order to get his team going offensively. Rookie Natasha Cloud took the starting spot of veteran guard Ivory Latta in the team’s three victories heading into the All-Star break. Thibault was pleased with the change, as it allowed Latta to inject offensive energy off the bench.
“If everybody stays healthy, I would like to stay with that,” Thibault said. “It gives us size in the starting lineup on defense, it gives us scoring coming off the bench in Ivory, it gives us an instant infusion of offense and energy which I thought we were starting to lack a little bit with our bench.”
With the team at its healthiest of the season, Washington looks to begin the second half of the season strong and make a push to the playoffs. The Mystics and Storm will square off once more at the end of August in Seattle.