Mystics-Liberty preview

Mystics-Liberty preview

The matchup: The two teams currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture also own the longest losing streaks in the WNBA. One of those skids comes to an end when the Washington Mystics travel to face the New York Liberty on Saturday at 4 p.m. The Mystics (5-20) returned from the Olympic break with a slim chance at a playoff berth. Losing four straight and six of seven since has not helped their cause. Washington sits 4.5 games behind Chicago, currently the fourth and final seed, and four back of New York.The road has not been kind to the Mystics, who have dropped 12 of 13 away from the Verizon Center. However the one victory came at New York immediately before the break, a stunning 70-53 win behind 24 points from Crystal Langhorne. Since then, five straight road losses, four by at least 15 points.The Liberty (9-16), losers of three straight, committed 21 turnovers and shot 32 percent from the field in the previous loss to the Mystics. Cappie Pondexter, the WNBAs leading scorer with 20.7 points per game, averaged 23.5 points in two games against the Mystics this season including 25 in a June win at Washington.Last time out: Holding a two-point lead at halftime, the Mystics lost their way during the second half at Atlanta, outscored by the new-look Dream 51-28 over the final two quarter. Despite playing without the leading scorer Angel McCoughtry, suspended for a team violation, Atlanta gave new head coach Fred Williams his first victory by scoring 24 fast-break points compared to Washingtons eight and opening the fourth quarter on a 10-0 run. We turned the ball over which led to some easy baskets for them, Mystics coach and general manager Trudi Lacey said. The other piece of it is we fouled and got them on the free throw line. When you play with that combination it leads to easy points for the other team.Monique Currie scored a team-high 14 points and Crystal Langhorne had 13 for the Mystics, who have lost their last three games by an average of 16.6 points.Consistent Currie: Since returning from the Olympic break, the Mystics small forward has reached double digit points in six of seven games yet did not tally more than 14 points in any game during that span. Washingtons second-leading scorer on the season (10.7) had seven such outings in 18 games before the break, including a season-high 21 points against Connecticut, but also scored in single-digit scoring seven times. Currie is averaging 11.4 points during the second half of the season along with 1.7 steals.

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Caps start road trip on a low note with loss to Edmonton

Caps start road trip on a low note with loss to Edmonton

In a game that featured Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid, it was Benoit Pouliot who stole the show as the Washington Capitals fell to the Edmonton Oilers 4-1.

How it happened: An Alex Ovechkin turnover in the second period led to a rush the other way for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He had Dmitry Orlov spinning in circles before firing the puck at the net. The shot hit off of Pouliot to fool Braden Holtby. Pouliot added a second tally in the period as he banked a shot in off the back of Holtby. Alex Ovechkin tried to spark a comeback with a quick goal in the third, but Edmonton added two goals in the final frame to put it out of reach.

What it means: Wednesday's loss was the Caps' second straight with both defeats coming in regulation. Last season, Washington did not lose consecutive games until Jan. 2. They did not lose consecutive games in regulation until the postseason. With three games left to go on their current road trip, the Caps wanted to get off to a strong start in Edmonton. A 4-1 loss was not the kind of start they were hoping for.


Ovechkin vs. McDavid: This game was billed as Ovechkin vs. Edmonton's budding superstar Connor McDavid. Both players made their presence felt. With the Caps trailing 2-0 to start the third period, Ovechkin scored just nine seconds in to pull the Caps within one. The Great 8 now has goals in four-straight games. He would finish with four shots on goal. McDavid tallied two assists and the Caps struggled early to contain him as he drew both of the Caps' penalties in the first period.

Second period dilemma: The second period has been identified as a weakness and Wednesday's game was no exception...sort of. The Caps allowed two goals in the middle frame allowing Edmonton to take control of the game. But the Caps took the first seven shots of the period and did not even allow a shot on goal until the 7:48 mark of the period. The problem? Edmonton scored on that shot. The optimistic view is that the Caps controlled the play and were just unlucky with the Oilers' goals coming off a deflection and a bank shot. But a goal's a goal. The Caps have now been outscored in the second period 8-2.

Power outage: The Capitals still need to get on track on the power play. Edmonton took two penalties in the first period, but the Caps were unable to take advantage and finished the game 0-for-3 with the extra man. A goal in either of those chances would obviously have changed the course of the game.

Look ahead: The Caps continue their Canadian road trip on Saturday in Vancouver with a quick turnaround to Calgary the next night. The road trip wraps up Tuesday in Winnipeg.


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Evaluating what Wizards need from reserves to succeed in 2016-17

Evaluating what Wizards need from reserves to succeed in 2016-17

The new season begins for the Wizards on Thursdsay at the Atlanta Hawks (CSN, 6:30 p.m.). While coach Scott Brooks hasn't made his starters official, the likely five are John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat. 

But what about the rest? Without a balanced bench, it won't matter how good those starters are if the Wizards are going to turn last year's .500 record into their third playoff berth in four seasons. No official declaration has been made by Brooks about how he'll use his reserves, but based on recent comments and how he used players to end the preseason, these are the primary candidates (Note: Ian Mahinmi isn't listed because he's out with left knee surgery.)

PG Trey Burke: The assumption is that he’ll be Wall’s primary backup, and given his three years NBA experience, that seems to be the short-term plan. But Burke will be pushed. He averages 12.1 points which is good for a backup, but that’s hardly the only thing that matters. 1.) Ball pressure to set up the defense. Brooks is putting a lot of responsibility on all of his backcourt players to be more engaged. Burke didn't do that consistently in the preseason. Allowing the other team to walk the ball up and get into their offensive sets is a sure way to spend more time on the bench under Brooks. 2.) Running half-court offense more efficiently. In the preseason, Burke was indecisive with the ball and the Wizards were disjointed when the pace slowed. They couldn’t get into their offense and took low-percentage shots late in the shot clock.   

PG Tomas Satoransky: With four years under his belt as a pro in Europe, he’s not a typical rookie. At 6-7, he’s significantly bigger than Burke and has more of the edge that Brooks likes to see on defense. He has the chance to overtake Burke as the primary backup for Wall or give Brooks the option of a three-guard lineup. 1.) Develop a jumper. The Wizards realize he needs time but the easiest thing to improve is a stroke. If he puts in the work, it’ll come. Defenders will go under on pick-and-rolls when Satoransky has the ball and play the passing lanes. He can pick a team a part with his vision. 2.) Use length to slow down the ball. The downside of no Wall last season was Ramon Sessions was the fill-in, and he was a defensive liability. Satoransky has better size and there shouldn't be a major drop off whenever he comes in, especially against second-tier players for the opposing team.  

SG Marcus Thornton: His primary job will be shooting and scoring. Is he Beal's primary backup or will he be used in spot minutes when the Wizards require an offensive spark? Some nights, Thornton can score in bunches. 1.) An instant-offense option, Thornton is more of a scorer than a pure shooter. Some nights he has it and he can score in bunches. Other times he doesn’t. 2.) Efficient shooting. Thornton has been in the low 30s from three-point range since shooting about 42 percent from there during a 39-game stretch with the Celtics a few years ago. 3.) Movement. Thornton will have better results and higher-percentage shots if he doesn't stand and wait for the ball to shoot.

SF Kelly Oubre: He pushed Porter for the starting job but is still a year away from having a real shot at being a starter. The effort already is there. He just needs to polish. When he was drafted, the projection from president Ernie Grunfeld was two to three years. 1.) Control. Whenever Oubre gets into trouble, he’s too hyper. On offense, he will try to force the ball to the basket when the driving lane has been closed off and will result in a turnover or an awkward-looking blocked attempt. He has to realize there’s nothing wrong with being calm, kicking the ball back out and resetting. Defensively, he gambles a lot. There’s nothing wrong with containment. Every play doesn’t have to result in a steal. 2.) Diversify his game off the bounce. Oubre has to come up with counter moves to get to the rim. He can't go in straight lines, exclusively to his preferred left hand to dunk on everybody at will. 

PF/C Andrew Nicholson: At $26 million, he might prove to be a bargain acquisition considering the deals that were handed out this summer. Nicholson could end up like a lot of other players who step on the floor with Wall, who have their three-point accuracy skyrocket. He can play on the low block and doesn't shy from contact. 1.) Stretch four. He shot a career-high 36 percent from three-point range last season. His stroke looks better. When Nicholson was brought in, the question about whether he could be a legitimate three-point shooting, power forward was the first thing that came to mind. He only attempted 114 with the Magic. 2.) Spread five. The knee injury to Mahinmi means Brooks has to use Nicholson behind Gortat, too, and though he's just 6-foot-9, his 250-pound frame can handle it. When they go really small with Nicholson here, they can look like the Hawks did the last few years with Pero Antic and Al Horford spreading from the five spot. It can pose major matchup problems.

PF/C Jason Smith: Despite his jolly disposition, Smith can get nasty down low which is a quality the Wizards could use inside. How much he plays when Mahinmi comes back isn't clear. Though Smith isn't a three-point shooter, he has a solid face-up game that can draw his man from the rim. 1.) Focus on mid-range. Smith took his share of threes in the preseason, but that's still out of his comfort zone. He only attempted 16 threes in 76 appearances with the Magic. 2.) Hustle hard. The most surprising aspect of Smith's game is his ability to recover on defense and his help to close out runs at the rim. That kind of effort forces Brooks to find minutes for you.  

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