Mystics open crucial stretch of WNBA schedule with a win at Dallas


ARLINGTON, Tex. — The end of the Washington Mystics’ longest break of the season coincided with the start of perhaps their most important stretch of the year.

With six days between games, Coach Mike Thibault gave the team a weekend off before two days of practice. Thursday’s 87-77 win over Dallas started a run of four games in six days that includes hosting a back-to-back this weekend against Seattle, a pair of games with huge playoff implications. That’s followed by a home game against Commissioner’s Cup champion Las Vegas before a trip to first-place Chicago, the defending WNBA champion, three days later.

The Mystics (18-11), playing without Elena Delle Donne (scheduled night off), got things off to a good start at College Park Center. The victory over the Wings (12-16) knotted them with Seattle, which lost at Connecticut, for fourth place in the league.

“It’s a big weekend, obviously,” Thibault said. “Very little prep time for either team. . . . We played [the Storm] a month ago, and they haven’t changed a lot other than [adding former Mystic] Tina [Charles]. We haven’t faced them with her. . . . It’s kind of come out and just play.”

Point guard Natasha Cloud, one of the team’s more vocal leaders, said nothing needed to be said entering this crucial stretch.

“Not a message,” she said before Thursday’s game. “We’re all just under the understanding that it’s one day at a time, one game at a time.

“We just need to control our destiny. That means being road warriors now and then looking forward to the weekend, being able to play a back-to-back and be productive and consistent within those two games as well. So we’re in the stretch now. … We’re 10 toes down with where we are in the present moment, not looking too much ahead because we can finish this season strong and move ourselves up in the rankings, too.”

The Mystics had played the most games in the league entering the All-Star Game this month, making the break even more important for their postseason push. The schedule was a big reason Thibault gave his team the extra rest.

We love being around each other, but … we need some space, too,” Cloud said with a laugh. “And just time to reset, be with our families and really just like sit down for a minute and be where our feet are. Because I think too often people forget that we’re constantly going. I literally go home, I spend one day with my dogs, and then I’m on the road again.”

Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ win:

Washington had one of its best halves of the season, taking a 56-36 halftime lead. The Mystics never trailed after being down 4-2.

Myisha Hines-Allen moved into the starting lineup in Delle Donne’s absence and opened the game with a steal and a layup. A few minutes later, she crossed over her defender and then hit a three-pointer to put the Mystics up 11-6. Hines-Allen finished with 14 points.

“That was my thing, try to be aggressive from the beginning,” Hines-Allen said. “But for the most part, for us to start that run, [it] started on the defensive end. We were able to get our hands on things and just run out in transition, and then our bench came in and did the same exact things. That’s how we were able to just keep the whole momentum.”

The Wings made a fourth-quarter push to get within nine, but Cloud (14 points, seven assists) buried back-to-back jumpers to extend the lead to 78-64. Five Mystics players finished in double figures, including Ariel Atkins (14), Shakira Austin (12) and Alysha Clark (13).

The Mystics got a huge lift from their bench late in the first quarter, powering a 9-0 run to take a 28-14 lead. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough continued to play well, helping the team’s lobbying effort for her as the league’s sixth woman of the year. Tianna Hawkins, back in the rotation, came out aggressive and finished with seven points. The Mystics’ bench outscored the Wings’ 20-5.

“Just being ready,” Hawkins said. “Before every game I tell the bench mobs to be ready when your name is called. … You’ve got a sub coming, so there’s no reason to leave anything else on the court.”

Thibault was named an assistant on the U.S. women’s national team that will play in this year’s FIBA World Cup. He is joined by Kara Lawson (Duke) and Joni Taylor (Texas A&M) under Coach Cheryl Reeve (Minnesota Lynx). Thibault has been involved with USA Basketball, off and on with both the men and women, since 1993 and was an assistant on the 2008 women’s Olympic team that won gold.

“It’s always fun to do USA, and it’s always an honor,” Thibault said. “I’ve been doing it since, like, 1993. Tells you how old I am. . . . It’s always rewarding and nothing like representing your country on the international stage and playing the best in the world.”

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