Looking like anything but the defending WNBA champions, the Washington Mystics seek to avoid their first four-game losing streak in over four years Sunday when they face the Indiana Fever.
Washington's title defense was always going to encounter some road bumps considering coach Mike Thibault had only one starter from last year's team in the "wubble," and was without star Elena Delle Donne. But the Mystics reached a shocking early season nadir Friday night, losing 74-66 to the previously winless New York Liberty - who had lost their previous two contests by a combined 55 points.
"Probably, in many ways, that was one of the most embarrassing losses, if not the most embarrassing loss since I've been in D.C.," Thibault told The Washington Post while pulling no punches. "It's not the same team that showed up and played in the first couple games that we were here.
"Teams are scouting us, they're doing things, but that doesn't represent who we are as a Mystics organization. That was embarrassing."
Washington has not lost four in a row since a seven-game skid from July 1-22, 2016 and has not been below .500 this late in the season since opening that same campaign 2-5. Aerial Powers scored 20 points and Emma Meesseman added 17 in Friday's loss, with the latter offering hints she is closer to her WNBA Finals MVP form.
"She had that demeanor about her that was aggressive," Thibault said. "You could see it. I think that it's a team that she's had past success against, so that helps you. It was just good to see her have that look in her eye. 'Okay, I can do more offensively.'
"I think that's a product, too, of her teammates reassuring her or encouraging her that, 'Hey we want that, we need it. It's not selfish for you to go looking for your shot a little bit more.'"
Indiana (2-4) is also struggling to gain traction and trying to avoid a third consecutive defeat after losing 87-80 to Minnesota on Friday. After a strong first quarter, the Fever were left reeling by a 17-2 run by the Lynx in the second.
They had a furious fourth-quarter rally to reduce a 15-point deficit to two after Candice Dupree made a free throw to make it 76-74 with 5:13 left, but Indiana went scoreless over the next 3:09 and came no closer.
"I believe it started on defense," Kennedy Burke told IndyStar after scoring 11 of her 14 points in the final period. "I know that we were kind of struggling with them (offensive) boarding because they really killed us in the first half. The fact that we were able to do that, it led to offense, and then I think that's when my momentum came in and also as a team as well."
The Fever continue to deal with injuries that have affected their rotation. Victoria Vivians and Natalie Achonwa are day-to-day with knee and hamstrings, respectively, and Erica Wheeler is in COVID-19 protocol. Additionally, Stephanie Mavunga sat out most of the second half Friday after taking an elbow to the face.
Washington began its title defense in the "wubble" with a 101-76 rout of Indiana on July 25 as Myisha Hines-Allen scored a career-high 24 points. The Mystics have won 10 straight against the Fever since an 80-73 defeat Sept. 11, 2016.