During Michelle Snow's previous nine WNBA seasons, which followed a highly successful run at the University of Tennessee and winning a state championship in high school, she never experienced a losing campaign.Before entering the pro ranks this year as a rookie, Natalie Novosel was one of the headliners for a Notre Dame program that finished the 2011-12 season as National runner-ups.Just two seasons ago, second-leading scorer Monique Currie helped guide the Washington Mystics to the Eastern Conference title and a second straight playoff appearance.Those were the days - and nothing like what trio and the rest of the Mystics have endured in 2012. Well, except for Currie and the handful of others who have now suffered through a second straight trying season. With two games remaining, including the home finale Friday night against Indiana, Washington (5-27) needs to a win to match last season's total of six. Should they lose both, the Mystics will finish the season with a 13-game losing streak, and the second worst record in franchise history."It's hard to believe that just two seasons ago we won the Eastern Conference regular season," said Currie, who returned to a full-time role this season after missing nearly all of 2011 with a knee injury. Once again the DC area native is the team's second-leading scorer (11.8), but in a completely different and bummer of a scenario."This season especially has been one of the most difficult for myself. You have to take the highs with the lows. Nothing comes easily. It's a learning experience - just something I'd rather not experience again."For Snow, a 10-year veteran who signed with the Mystics as a free agent this past offseason, the barrage of defeats has been all about "life lessons.""First losing season, you see things from a totally different perspective," said the 6-foot-5 center. "You realize how hard it is to overcome some of the mental battles. You find yourself constantly trying to keep your confidence and keep your head in the right place so you can be productive and contribute to your team...It's depressing; it's hard to deal with."Crystal Langhorne, the Mystics leader in scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage will miss the final two games with a left foot strain after sitting out Sunday's loss to New York. Washington closes out the regular season Saturday at Chicago.Washington is the only WNBA team averaging fewer than 70 points per game (69.3), ranking near the bottom in field goal and 3-point shooting. Since the returning from the Olympic break in mid-August, the Mystics have won just one game in 13 attempts with many of the losses coming in double figure fashion, twice by the Fever. The team's last victory came more than a month ago - August 19 at the Verizon Center against Chicago."I think that's been one of the toughest adjustments, the losing," said Novosel, who lost all of four games during her senior season at Notre Dame. "Getting into my mind that this isn't how the WNBA is, we're not supposed to have losing season and not to get used to that."The losing hasn't stopped, but the recent effort has improved; in its previous game, Washington led by nine points in the fourth quarter on Sunday before falling 75-68 to New York. "The greatest lesson you can have is to hold your integrity around what you're doing, always keep a positive attitude, continue to improve, continue to work," Mystics coach and general manager Trudi Lacey said. "That's exactly what we've done."While the Liberty remain in the postseason hunt, the Mystics lost that Dream for good during the current skid."It's been a difficult road all season, that's obvious," Currie said. "What hasn't changed for us is we continue to work hard although we continue to work hard, though we're kind of just playing just to finish the season because we don't have any postseason chances."Chances against the Fever (20-12), losers of three straight, perhaps hinge on whether the Mystics can conjure up memories of their 67-66 win over Indiana back on June 15. Beats thinking about the past 11 games.
The bigget emphasis on the offensive end under coach Scott Brooks, since training camp and through seven preseason games, is spacing. Whether Bradley Beal is running the offense or John Wall has them flow into pick-and-rolls before calling a set, the ball doesn't move so effortlessly if the floor is congested.
That's where Otto Porter comes in. Going into his fourth season, and second as the starter at small foward, this is where he should flourish. Porter doesn't thrive standing still in the corner for catch-and-shoot three-pointers. He prefers to be moving to the ball, and the off-ball movement and spacing that creates the avenues for the passes from the guards allows him to maximize his skill-set.
"We can get anything we want as long as everybody keep moving, everybody keep sharing the ball," said Porter, who had the tendency to disappear during long stretches of games or multiple games under Randy Wittman.
Center Marcin Gortat is optimistic by what he sees overall. In the Wizards' last preseason game, a win over the Toronto Raptors, they had 33 assists on 49 field goals. Beal had nine assists and no turnovers.
"We’re moving the ball much better than we’ve been moving the last few years," Gortat said. "We run completely different drills in practice. … We have a lot of options."
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Gortat is one of the top five screening big men in the NBA, and Brooks has his guards doing more screening as well. Taking advantage of defenses watching the ball when Wall has it with backdoor cuts for slip passes is more common.
"The perimeter guys are doing a good job of finding open cuts to the basket. Otto was one of the best at doing it," Brooks said. "We have to continue to work on our spacing. Sometimes we don’t want you to cut. You have to space out."
The change is welcomed for Wall who doesn't have to do everything all the time with defenses loading to him on the ball. Porter can be a more effective third scorer. With more players touching the ball it will keep them engaged and in theory make them more productive.
"With our offense, he just wants movement," Wall said of Brooks' philosophy. "I talk to guys about cutting at certain times. I think Otto, he’s one of the best cutters in the league when he has the opportunity to do it. When we’re penetrating and driving there’s so much attention on us we have guys like (Markieff Morris) that can pass and (Gortat) who can knock down shots. It’s about cutting and getting the timing down pat. Our starting five is a free-flowing offense.”
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Sporadically, John Wall would post up smaller guards last season. It didn't become a staple of his game, however, and Bradley Beal didn't do much of it either when he was being defended by them.
Scott Brooks is trying to change that immediately. In seven preseason games, that was one of many focal points for the offense.
Wall is a big point guard at 6-4 and physically strong. Beal isn't exceptionally big for a shooting guard, but he has gotten more size and grown an inch taller than his backcourt mate. When 6-footers such as Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors have to switch onto Beal, the Wizards are getting the ball to him quickly at the rim to force a rotation from a second player to help or clear out for Beal to go to work.
“As we all evolve we’re going to have to push ourselves to play different spots on the floor. John has great size at his position," Brooks said. "For him to post up and be a playmaker from that spot, defenses are not used to that. There are not a lot of pure point guards who can post up. He has the strength and he has the quickness and obviously he has the passing ability. With Brad, they have to make a decision. Are they going to put a bigger guy on John? We’re going to have that opportunity with Brad also."