Ail­ing Mys­tics have points to ad­dress

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - BY GENE WANG­

While the Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics prac­ticed Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, sit­ting on the train­ing ta­ble off to the cor­ner was in­jured guard Natasha Cloud. Next to her on a chair was in­jured guard Tayler Hill.

Ab­sent com­pletely from the aux­il­iary court at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter was all-star for­ward Elena Delle Donne, who had boarded a plane to Los An­ge­les, where she will un­dergo surgery to re­pair her dam­aged left thumb.

“I hope some of our other play­ers make a lot of shots,” Coach Mike Thibault said with a chuckle. “You know, that’s a lot of points out of the lineup.”

An av­er­age of 36.9 points to be ex­act, rep­re­sent­ing more than 45 per­cent of Wash­ing­ton’s pergame out­put this sea­son. Such is the state of the Mys­tics with 10 games left in the reg­u­lar sea­son and a top-four seed in the WNBA play­offs on the line.

Wash­ing­ton (14-10) en­ters Sunday’s game against the vis­it­ing Phoenix Mer­cury cling­ing to the No. 4 seed. The Mer­cury (13-11) is one game back but would claim the tiebreaker with a vic­tory, hav­ing de­feated the Mys­tics, 8880, in the teams’ first meet­ing July 5.

The top four seeds, re­gard­less of con­fer­ence, re­ceive a bye into the sec­ond round af­ter the league over­hauled its play­off for­mat last sea­son.

“They’re huge pieces to what we do, but no ex­cuses,” Mys­tics point guard Kristi To­liver said of the in­juries. “We’re still af­ter get­ting a lot of these vic­to­ries this up­com­ing week. We’re at home a lot, so that’s good for us. We’ve just got to find a way.”

The Mys­tics head into a fourgame home­s­tand, their long­est this sea­son, fol­low­ing a 76-74 road loss to the last-place San An­to­nio Stars on Fri­day night. Wash­ing­ton had a chance to take the lead or tie twice in the fi­nal 10 sec­onds but missed con­sec­u­tive at­tempts in the painted area, un­der­scor­ing the im­pact of not hav­ing Delle Donne and Hill in par­tic­u­lar.

Delle Donne leads the Mys­tics in scor­ing (18.8) and ranks sev­enth in the WNBA. Hill, out for the year with a torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in her right knee, is third on the team in scor­ing (13.3).

The prog­no­sis for Delle Donne was to reen­ter the lineup per­haps two to three weeks fol­low­ing surgery, mean­ing the most op­ti­mistic timetable would be the fi­nal game of this home­s­tand Aug. 18. More re­al­is­ti­cally, the 2015 WNBA MVP will be back for the fi­nal two weeks of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Delle Donne in­jured the thumb on her non-shoot­ing hand dur­ing the first quar­ter of a 77-70 win at the At­lanta Dream on July 30. It was only her sec­ond game back af­ter sit­ting out three straight plus the All-Star Game in Seat­tle with a sprained right an­kle.

An in­jury to Delle Donne’s right thumb last year ended her sea­son with six games to go. This time, she is sched­uled to have her cast re­moved in roughly 10 days and then wear a splint dur­ing which time she may be­gin test­ing how much con­tact her hand is able to with­stand.

Cloud, mean­while, is out for at least Sunday’s game, her fourth in a row, be­cause of a par­tially torn plan­tar fas­cia in her right foot.

“Ob­vi­ously, it’s un­for­tu­nate with all the in­juries we have,” Emma Meesse­man said. “We just had Elena back, and they keep com­ing, but we know we can’t keep think­ing about it. We can’t say that, ‘Oh, the sea­son’s lost. We’re go­ing to lose games.’ So we have to fight, and that’s what we’re go­ing to do.”

The Mer­cury also has been short­handed re­cently, with Brit­tney Griner miss­ing the last six games. The all-star cen­ter is nurs­ing a bone bruise in her left knee and a right an­kle sprain af­ter land­ing awk­wardly dur­ing an 8871 loss to the Min­nesota Lynx on July 14.

Griner leads the league in scor­ing (22.3) and blocks (2.5) and ranks third in field goal per­cent­age (57.7) and eighth in re­bound­ing (8.2).

The Mer­cury is com­ing off a 93-92 loss Fri­day to the Con­necti­cut Sun, which holds the No. 3 seed. WNBA ca­reer scor­ing leader Diana Taurasi led Phoenix with a game-high 33 points on 12-for-18 shoot­ing.

“Game-plan­ning is cer­tainly dif­fer­ent,” Thibault said. “When you game-plan for Griner, that causes so many other prob­lems be­sides her. It causes is­sues on how you de­fend other peo­ple be­cause you have to pay at­ten­tion to her. Now it’s a lit­tle bit more of a perime­ter game for them. Cer­tainly you start with Taurasi.”

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