No one expected the Washington Mystics to have an easy bid to repeat as WNBA champions given the upheaval that has taken place in the offseason on multiple fronts. The defending champs, though, get a chance to right themselves Friday when they face the winless New York Liberty.
The Mystics (3-2) did not skip a beat despite playing without star forward Elena Delle Donne in winning their first three games. But Mike Thibault's team has been pulled back to the pack this week with back-to-back losses to Chicago and Las Vegas.
Washington was on the short end of an 83-77 scoreline to the Aces on Wednesday night, struggling both defensively and with Las Vegas' physiciality as Bill Laimbeer's team shot 49.1 percent and outscored the Mystics 23-7 at the foul line.
"They were more physical than us, and that probably won't change," Thibault told The Washington Post. "They're big and strong, and they went at us in the lane. ' As a general rule, I thought we did a good job of rebounding the ball against them with the physicality. But when you go to the line like that, it's a big difference to try to make up."
If there was a bright spot for the Mystics, it was forward Emma Meesseman snapping out of her funk with season highs of 24 points and 13 rebounds. Expected to pick up much of the scoring slack for the absent Delle Donne, the Belgian and 2019 WNBA Finals MVP averaged 11.8 points and 6 rebounds in the first four games.
The Liberty are looking to avoid their first 0-6 start in club history and continue to look for any sort of scoring depth. New York continues to be without No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu due to a third-degree ankle sprain, and the difference has been jarring on both ends of the court.
The Liberty have lost their last two games by a combined 55 points after getting pounded 92-66 by Minnesota on Wednesday. Amanda Zahui B. had 13 points, but New York was overwhelmed by a 20-1 run in the third quarter, when the Lynx outscored the Liberty 27-6.
While missing Ionescu is an obvious problem, New York's offense has struggled mightily in the "wubble." The Liberty are last in scoring (72.4), overall shooting (35.9%), and 3-point shooting (24.5%), and they are compounding those woes by leading the WNBA in turnovers with 18.6 per game.
"We gotta be more consistent on staying good all together, doesn't matter who's on the floor," Zahui B told the New York Daily News. "I think we're still growing' We're doing all the small things that we didn't do to begin and we started to do well, now we're just gonna put everything together.
"We are young. We are new to each other. But we just got to keep on building and stay as positive as possible."
Washington averaged 96 points in sweeping the three meetings last year and has won the last six regular-season meetings between the teams.