After recent games against the Storm and Sun, after a brutal weather system pounded the D.C. metropolitan area this weekend and with the temperatures remaining in the unbearable range, it almost seems appropriate that the struggling Washington Mystics find the Mercury next on the schedule. The Mystics (2-10) returned home following a three straight road losses, but the Verizon Center has been no magic elixir halfway for the WNBA's lowest scoring team midway through their four game homestand. Now after losses to Seattle by eight points and Connecticut by 13, Washington faces Phoenix (4-9) on Sunday (1 p.m.) in a rematch from earlier this month, yet another result that went the wrong way for Coach Trudi Laceys squad.The latest setback Washington has lost nine of 10 games - came Friday night. Trailing by four points at halftime, the Mystics offense powered down upon returning to the court, unable to score during the opening 4:20 of the third quarter. In that stretch the Sun pulled away with a 12-0 run and outscored the Mystics 27-12 in the quarter for a 63-44 lead. When you dont make shots, its a little deflating, Lacey said. We came out missed a couple of shots and turned the ball over. It takes us out of our offensive rhythm. There are two things we have to do. We have to play with energy all the time and we have to take care of the basketball.The low scoring Mystics - 68.4 points per contest on the season and 63.3over its last three games - also need to even out the recent free throw line imbalance.The Mystics have taken 22 fewer attempts in the two losses while beingoutscored at the charity stripe 51-27. Monique Currie scored 20 points in the earlier meeting against the Mercury. That output represented her season-high until the Mystics small forward tallied 21 points against the Sun, sinking two 3-pointers. Over her last four games, the former Bullis star has made half her shots (7 of 14) from beyond the arc. Washington will need more of that deep accuracy - plus steady effort throughout for a winning effort against the Mercury.We need to be more consistent, coming out in the second half ready to fight and ready to play; we just need to leave it all out there, Currie said following Fridays loss. We need to be more confident and aggressive. Teams are coming in here and theyre being the aggressive ones. The Sun came out after halftime and they hit us first.The shorthanded Mercury are coming off an impressive 84-81 win in Chicago on Friday despite suiting up only eight players. DeWanna Bonner, the WNBAs third-leading scorer (20.4), paced four double-digit scorers with 27 points. On June 20, Bonner played the entire 40 minutes and scored a team-high 19 points in an 80-77 win over the Mystics. The 6-foot-4 wing drained a clutch 3-pointer during a frantic comeback as Washington let a five-point lead slip away over the games final two minutes and 26 seconds. Crystal Langhorne led the Mystics with 21 points.Despite the win in Chicago, the Mercury have lose six of eight road games this season playing without injured star Diana Taurasi (hip flexor). Washingtons only two victories have come at home, along with five losses.
A crazy second period got a little more insane late with a disputed go-ahead goal from Evgeni Malkin. After Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist slid into Philipp Grubauer on the goal, Barry Trotz challenged the play for goalie interference.
The challenge was unsuccessful.
The NHL released an explanation of the call:
After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that the actions of Washington's Daniel Winnik caused Pittsburgh's Patric Hornqvist to contact Grubauer before the puck crossed the goal line. The decision was made in accordance with Note 2 of Rule 78.7 (ii) which states, in part, that the goal on the ice should be allowed because "the attacking Player was pushed, shoved or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper."
Therefore the original call stands - good goal Pittsburgh Penguins.
You can view the play in the video above.
None of this explanation is incorrect. Winnik trips Hornqvist which causes him to slide into Grubauer. But from my point of view, it's not the trip that's the issue.
As Hornqvist slides into Grubauer, he clearly — and seemingly intentionally — hits and pushes Grubauer's pad with his stick. Unless the rule means that a player can legally do whatever he wants to a goalie so long as he was pushed into him (which we all know is not the case), this goal should have been called back for goalie interference.
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The development of a talent as raw and intriguing as Wizards forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. rarely happens overnight. Usually it's small steps along the way that ultimately add up to a finished product. On Monday afternoon against the Portland Trail Blazers, there were two things Oubre did that may qualify as significant signs of progress.
First, on the offensive end. The Wizards blew out the Blazers after getting off to a scorching hot start in the first quarter. They scored 37 points in the first and 75 in the first half, both season-highs. Oubre helped lead that charge with 10 points of his own in the first quarter on 2-of-3 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 from the line.
He kept it going in the second quarter with a bucket just over a minute in that saw him go around Evan Turner with a crossover. Oubre went right, dribbled behind his back and got to the rim where he finished with contact.
Oubre, 21, has shown this season he can knock down threes, finish on the fastbreak and scrap for putbacks in the lane. But beating a man off the dribble is a sign of young player growing more confident in his ability to put the ball on the floor.
"He's working on it. He knows that's not his greatest strength," guard Bradley Beal said. "Now he's perfecting it a little bit. He's using it to his advantage. He understands that he's knocking down more threes, so teams are going to run him off the line. He knows that he can now use his athleticism to get to the basket versus having to force up a tough one. He's got a pretty good package going for him. His three-ball is falling and he's starting to put it on the floor, which is even better."
Oubre finished with 18 points, just one off of the career-high he set against Bucks on Dec. 10. He finished 5-of-8 from the field, 3-of-4 from three and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. His three threes matched a career-best.
But defense is where Oubre may have taken another step on Monday. Sensing he has a player with unique versatility on the defensive end, head coach Scott Brooks decided to deploy Oubre on Blazers superstar guard Damian Lillard in the second quarter.
Oubre helped limit Lillard to just 6-of-17 shooting and his contribution was the product of something Brooks had wanted to experiment with.
"Kelly did a great job of getting in his handle and making sure that he didn't get anything easy when Kelly was guarding him in that second quarter," Brooks said.
"I'm definitely exploring it. I'm just trying to find ways that he can impact the game defensively... when he's locked in, he can guard multiple positions. I've been trying to experiment to throw some more point guard responsibilities on him defensively. Nothing against the other guys. It just gives a bigger player on a scoring point guard. I thought he was really good on Lillard."
With more minutes offered, Oubre has helped improve the Wizards defensively this season. Brooks has often gone with lineups featuring both Oubre and Otto Porter along with John Wall and Beal. He feels those four can easily switch between guarding multiple positions.
This strategy took that to another level. Now Oubre was being asked to guard the smallest and fastest guy on the team.
"I can guard whoever on the court, honestly. That’s how I feel. Whoever they ask me to guard I’m going to guard them, take the challenge and have fun with it," he said. "Just staying down on his pump fakes, making it tough for him, using my length to disturb him and just making sure I keep him in front of me because he’s one of the quickest guards in the league. I think I did a solid job of that."
Oubre won't figure it all out in one afternoon against a struggling team, of course. But his teammates and coaches have pointed out certain times this season where it was obvious to him that he was showing improvement. Monday was one of those times.
"He's steady growing. He's constantly turning into what we want him to be and the kid that we drafted him to be. We just need him to continue to be aggressive," Beal said.
"I think the biggest thing is that he's definitely transitioned with his humility. He's grounded. He's always wanting to get better. He works hard and it's showing on the floor."