Mystics aim Sky high for season opener

767488.png

Mystics aim Sky high for season opener

With their season set to tipoff Saturday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Mystics can truly put the 2011 campaign behind them.That's a good thing. After finishing tied for the best record in the WNBA's Eastern Conference in 2010, the Mystics win total plummeted. Beset by injuries and inexperience, the recorddropped to a dismal 6-28. Not surpisingly, massive changes followed; only four players return, including all-star forward and former University of Maryland star Crystal Langhorne.The new roster put together by second-year coach and general manager Trudi Lacey boasts size plus veteran presence up front and in the backcourt. The first chance to see what the revamped squad is all about comes at 7 p.m. against the Chicago Sky. Here's what else you need to know about the new-look Mystics:Who's back: It all starts with Langhorne, who led the Mystics in scoring (18.2), rebounding and field goal percentage last season. The 6-foot-2 forward's scoring average has risen in each of first four WNBA seasons despite being the constant focus of opposing defenses. Help on the wing comes from the return of small forward Monique Currie (Bullis), who missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury. In 2010, the crafty scorer averaged 14.1 points and shot 45 percent from beyond the arc. In the Mystics preseason finale, Currie tallied 19 points and sank both of her 3-point attempts. Good sign indeed.Matee Ajavon took over the off-guard last season and finished second in scoring behind Langhorne. Dealing with a sore knee limited her during training camp while rising second-year point guard Jasmine Thomas missed time with knee tendinitis.Who's new: Seven of the Mystics 11 roster spots are filled with new faces. The acquistion of 6-foot-5 Michelle Snowstands out as the most prominent. The 10-year pro, along with former Seattle Storm shot blocker Crystal Robinson, will provide Langhorne protection inside plus a fiercer presence in the paint and on the glass. Center LaToya Pringle and forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton round out the frontcourt.Dominque Canty's 13-years of WNBA experience puts the quarterbacking of the Mystics up-tempo offense into veteran hands. She will also serve as mentor to Thomas, a first-round pick last season. Three-point threat Noelle Quinn and Natasha Lacy add punch off the bench.Then there is rookie Natalie Novosel, one ofthe Mystics twofirst-round picks, but the only one to make the final roster. The gritty anddurable5-foot-11 guardkeyedNotre Dame's run to thenational championship game and she will earn minutes as a defensive stalwart. Novosel also shot 41 percent from 3-point range combined over her last two seasions with the Irish.Where's Alana: After two injury plagued seasons, Alana Beard, the Mystics' all-time leading scorer, moved on during free agency.Beard signed with the Los Angeles Sparks, where she will be reunited with former Mystics Marissa Coleman and Nicky Anosike.The opponent: Like the Mystics,the Skyalso missed the postseason last year. Like the Mystics, the Sky also did not stand pat, adding former all-stars Swin Cash and Ticha Penicheiro. Like the Mystics, it all starts inside for the Sky with the reigning WNBA defensive player of the year and 2012 Olympian Sylvia Fowles. The 6-foot-6 center averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds last season. Speaking of last season, the Sky swept the Mystics in four games.What's the outlook:If Lacey has her way, this team will run more, play sharing is caring basketball and offer greater resistance on the defensive end. The coach said 15 of the team's losses last season came down to thefinal two or three possessions. With all the new but experienced hands, well, on hand, expect better results in the clutch. Barring the unforeseen, don't count on another six-win season. Then again, the East is stacked so even noticeable improvement on the court might not lead to the playoffs. Then again, change is in the air.

Quick Links

Wizards take stock of good and bad at midpoint of season

Wizards take stock of good and bad at midpoint of season

With their 104-101 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, the Wizards improved to 22-19 overall through 41 games, the exact midpoint of the 2016-17 season. They play again the next night in New York, so there will be little time for reflection of how they got here. But after beating the Grizzlies, head coach Scott Brooks and several of his players took a look back and a look ahead.

After beginning the season 2-8, they are now three games over .500. What have they liked about their season so far, and what do they still believe can be improved?

Brooks went into extensive detail.

“I didn’t like our start; I liked the last part of the first half, where we’ve played a much better since December. The thing I liked about the start [is that] we didn’t give in to a tough start, we kept battling and figuring out ways to get better – we’re tweaking and tinkering with the lineup, the starters mixing with some of the guys coming off of the bench. Some of our younger players have really done a good job of developing and staying with it when they’re not playing. It can be tough on you mentally, but I think our staff has done a good job to keep them engaged and keep them developing.

"I think Kelly [Oubre] has made some strides. He’s taken a few steps forward [and] taken a step back, but the step back he takes, he doesn’t get frustrated and takes another step. He always seems to bounce back and come back. Otto [Porter] has, I think, developed into the most consistent shooter in the league from the three. Every night it seems like he has it. And John [Wall] and Brad [Beal], I like the way they’re playing and leading. March [Marcin Gortat] has done a good job. I think we’re playing much better because we’re really buying into each other, and I think when you do that, teams have trouble beating us. I think at home, we’ve figured that out, but we have to figure out how to do it on the road.”

Guard Bradley Beal agreed with Brooks, that he was most pleased with how the Wizards rebounded from their dreadful start. 

“I like how we fought through adversity. I think we didn't give up on our slow start. We battled back and now we're over .500 now but just imagine if we were playing the way we were supposed to the first couple of games, our record would probably be a lot different. Definitely proud of the way we've been playing, the way we bounced back. We definitely can get better at playing great defense for 48 minutes, being locked in for 48 minutes. Just making sure we continue to respect our opponents and be prepared for every game moving forward.” 

[RELATED: CMills asks why Wall, Beal don't get more national attention]

Otto Porter gave a few reasons why he thinks they are playing better now than before.

“Back then it was early. We were still figuring each other out. New coaches, new players. Right now, we are starting to figure things out. We are confident in ourselves, playing for each other, playing hard and just rolling with it... Just, I guess figuring out things defensively. Everybody is on the same page. Offensively, just letting the game come to us. Moving the ball, and knowing that we want to be a defensive team," he said.

Improving away from the Verizon Center was a common theme in the answers from players. The Wizards are now 18-6 at home, while only the Golden State Warriors have more home wins. On the road, the Wizards are only 4-13 with the Nets the only NBA team featuring less road victories.

That's enough to give them the fifth seed in the East, but they know they still have plenty of work to do.

“We have a lot we can improve on: just closing out games, playing for a full 48-minutes, moving the ball at times when we get stagnant, but I like the effort that we gave," guard John Wall said of the first half of the season. "The way that we started the season, the way we had a great month of December, and we're playing well right now. It's great to take care of home court, just want to for the second half of the season improve on the road. If we can find a way to improve on the road I feel like we could have a better record. To be in the situation we are now, the way that we started the season, you can't ask for more.”

The Wizards were in a reflective mood, but Marcin Gortat put it bluntly where he thinks the Wizards are currently at.

“[The 22-19 record means] nothing. We have to continue to do what we do. We aren’t getting excited. We’ve been in this situation where we’ve been minus-five, under .500. We just have to focus and play and now we have to get some wins on the road," he said.

[RELATED: Grizzlies pay for ignoring Otto Porter]

Last-second layup secures Virginia Tech win over Georgia Tech

Last-second layup secures Virginia Tech win over Georgia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Seth Allen scored the final two of his 17 points on a layup with 15 seconds left to lift Virginia Tech to a 62-61 victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

It was a game the Hokies needed after losing three of their past four games. Allen hit 6 of 9 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and Zach LeDay added 17 points.

Virginia Tech (14-4 overall, 3-3 ACC) led by as many as nine in the second half, but couldn't put away the Yellow Jackets (11-7, 3-3), who had two chances in the final seconds to take the lead. Georgia Tech turned the ball over with :09 left, and then fouled Virginia Tech's Justin Robinson, who missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Quinton Stephens missed a contested jumper at the buzzer that would have won the game for Georgia Tech.

Stephens paced the Yellow Jackets with 18 points.

MORE NCAA: Should Georgetown consider parting ways with John Thompson III?