The Mystics have improved since starting 0-12, but they face an uphill climb to make the playoffs

WASHINGTON (AP) — It took the Washington Mystics more than a month to win a game — and a few days longer to earn their first victory at home.

Coach Eric Thibault understood how tough the wait was.

“I’m happy for our crowd,” he said after Washington beat the visiting Chicago Sky last week. “They’ve stuck with us.”

The 2024 season is testing the patience of fans, players and coaches alike in Washington. The Mystics dropped their first 12 games, and although they finally snapped that skid with a couple victories, they still have plenty of work to do to climb into playoff position. It’s been a sobering stretch for a team that knew it would have a different look this season following Elena Delle Donne’s decision to step away from basketball.

It’s been a rocky road for the Mystics since winning their first WNBA title in 2019. Delle Donne, a two-time league MVP, hardly played the next two seasons because of back problems and the COVID-19 pandemic. She became a significant contributor again in 2022 and 2023, but Washington couldn’t get past the first round of the playoffs.

The Mystics had five players averaging double figures in scoring last season — Delle Donne, Shakira Austin, Brittney Sykes, Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins. Right now, Atkins is the only one of those players still with the team and healthy. Cloud signed with Phoenix as a free agent, Austin (hip) has played only six games this year for Washington and Sykes (foot) has appeared in only three.

Washington took Austin with the third pick in the 2022 draft — its highest selection in 13 years — and she was an All-Rookie performer that year. But she’s played just 25 games since.

Atkins has bumped her scoring up to 15.5 points per game this season, including 56 over the past two games.

“Taking what the defense gives me and also kind of creating space for myself and not trying to force anything,” she said after Wednesday night’s loss at Indiana. “Starting to let the game come to me, getting into more of a rhythm, kind of seeing how our team plays, playing to the strengths of my teammates.”

Although the Mystics are now 2-13, they’ve been a little more competitive than that record suggests. Only three of their defeats were by double digits, and while their offensive efficiency rating is last in the league, on defense they’re in the middle of the pack. Although Austin and Sykes haven’t been available much, rookie forward Aaliyah Edwards is averaging 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.

“She just has a toughness and grit to her,” Thibault said. “I don’t think I’ve worried for one minute since the start of the season about whether she’s going to come in and do her work and try to get better and play hard and compete.”

Washington drew big crowds at Capital One Arena when it hosted Chicago and Indiana on back-to-back nights earlier this month. The Mystics lost to Angel Reese and the Sky by eight and then to Caitlin Clark and the Fever by two. After a five-point loss at New York, they finally broke through with a 19-point win at Atlanta.

“Now we can play and keep getting better and not have to hear about that for a while,” Thibault said when the losing streak ended.

After beating Chicago at home, Washington had a chance to extend its two-game run in a rematch with Indiana, but the Mystics lost 88-81. That defeat was doubly problematic because the Fever currently occupy the last postseason spot, 3 1/2 games ahead of Washington. Still, the next two games on the schedule are against Dallas, which is only 3-11, so those matchups represent another chance for the Mystics to build on their improved results of late.

At the very least, it appears the worst is behind them.

“It’s two wins, but at the end of the day it is also two wins,” Atkins said. “We were coming off what, 0-12? That’s tough. That’s hard to go through. So we enjoy it and we’re thankful for it, but it definitely gives you perspective. You just got to keep pushing. You just got to grind it through.”



Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up