Any thoughts of the month-long Olympic break being a panacea for all that ailed the Washington Mystics during the first half of the season is quickly evaporating. Perhaps returning to their home turf changes the momentum for the Eastern Conferences last place team; it certainly cannot hurt.Dealt back-to-back road games against likely playoff teams opening the second half of the season, the Mystics (4-16) fanned the flames in consecutive. Washington committed 34 turnovers in the two games, and the lowest scoring team in the WNBA failed to crack the 70-point plateau in either contest. Fridays 98-69 drubbing against Minnesota was Washington second-largest margin of defeat this season.None of the players participated in the London games. The time off was used for plenty of practice sessions. The extra work is not showing through just yet."It was tough, but you know we had our whole team here, forward Crystal Langhorne said of the back-to-back scenario. We didn't really have anybody at the Olympics so we had a lot of practice time. We still don't have any excuses for the way we played."One sort of excuse the playing on the road thing goes away Sunday when the Mystics host the Chicago Sky (4 p.m., Comcast SportsNet). Thats a good thing because there is plenty to correct elsewhere."We turned the ball over too much here, Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said following the loss to the Lynx. We had 19 turnovers and they scored 32 points off our turnovers. So that's an obvious area we need improvement on, and really our interior defense and transition defense. I mean, they scored 54 points in the paint, a lot of that came off our turnovers.Washington stands 0-2 against the Chicago this season, including a 69-57 season-opening loss at the Verizon Center.The Mystics roster underwent a major overhaul this offseason with seven newcomers doting the opening night lineup. With so many changes and a small pre-season window with which to mesh, the Mystics used the midseason break as an on-court gelling opportunity, or so they hoped."We worked on our different defenses. We worked on taking care of the ball, and today it didn't show at all what we've been working on as a team, said Langhorne, who scored 12 points against Minnesota, matching Monique Currie and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton for team-high honors.The blowout loss against Minnesota provided Lacey an opportunity to keep her younger and lesser-used players in the lineup. Second-year guard Jasmine Thomas started and scored six points, but missed seven of nine shots and committed three turnovers. First-round pick Natalie Novosel played 21 minutes and doled out a team-best four assists. Wisdom-Hylton sank 5 of 6 field goal attempts and grabbed five rebounds.We used this opportunity to play a lot of our young players and give them some game experience, Lacey said. So we think that will help us down the road."Despite Gold Medalists Sylvia Fowles and Swin Cash on the roster, the Sky (8-10) are enduring their own struggles, having lost five straight and nine of 10 games. The latest setback, 82-76 at home on Friday against Atlanta despite 13 points and six rebounds from Fowles, the leagues leading rebounder with 12 boards per game.In two games against Washington, the 6-foot-6 Fowles averaged 21 points, 14 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.Monique Currie topped the Mystics scorers with 15 points ina 65-63 loss in Chicago on June 1.
The season series between the Wizards and Cavs was decided more than one month ago, when LeBron James banked in an impossible three-point shot to force overtime at the buzzer in an epic finish his team would win 140-135.
Bradley Beal fell one point short of his career-high with 41 and this is the final meeting of the series in which the Wizards trail 0-2.
Barring a fallout by the Cavs or Boston Celtics to end the season, they should decide the who'll be the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the East. The Wizards' immediate concern is holding off the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 spot to begin this five-game road trip.
To beat Cleveland, this is what the Wizards, who officially clinched a playoff spot with their 44th win Friday, have to do tonight:
-- Move the ball. Cleveland hasn't been a good defensive team post All-Star break, an area where Washington has struggled, too. Both teams allow better shooting from opponents than they shoot themselves in that span. The Wizards allow 47.1% which is tied for third-worst since mid-February. The Cavs allow 46.3%.which is tied for 19th. To jump-start the offense, the Wizards have gone away from post-ups with Marcin Gortat to start games and halves. They've tried to inject more motion to get them better looks and others to get more touches. While Cleveland is an iso-heavy team because they have elite iso players in James and Kyrie Irving, that's not Washington's strength. The Cavs can still succeed without great ball movement because of that. The Wizards cannot.
-- John Wall drew the assignment on Irving and played one of his best games defensively. While Irving made big shots down the stretch to close it out, Wall held him 8-for-24 shooting and just five assists. Lately, Kelly Oubre has been drawing assignments on point guards and it has proved to be very effective. Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, Dennis Schroder and Jeremy Lin each have been faced with his 7-2 wingspan and he has bothered them. Could he be deployed here? Quite possibly, but coach Scott Brooks used him vs. James in the last meeting. Oubre is a more physical option than Otto Porter though he's also more prone to foul trouble. If Iriving gets hot, Oubre is the best option which also would give Wall time to save his energy on a weaker offensive player.
-- If the Wizards go to a small lineup, they can't use Porter as the stretch four if he's matched with Kevin Love. This is the one team that can use that against Washington, because Love can take Porter down low, post him and outmuscle him for position underneath. He had 39 points and 12 rebounds as he shot 11-for-11 from the foul line. Ian Mahinmi, who was dealing with knee issues all season, wasn't available to play then. His presence -- and ability to cover for teammates as well as keep his own man in check under the rim -- could help turn that around. Also Bojan Bogdanovic is a bigger and stronger option at the four spot who wasn't on the roster then. So is Jason Smith. But allowing Porter to go 1 vs. 1 isn't a good idea.
-- The bench is better-suited with Brandon Jennings, Smith and Oubre playing the best they have all season coupled with Mahinmi's emergence. Trey Burke, who played Feb. 6 in the loss, is no longer in the rotation. Tomas Satoransky plays spot minutes. This takes some of the burden off the starters to do everything.
-- Cleveland hid Love, a defensive liability, vs. Marcin Gortat in a cross match, preferring to use their best low-post defender, Tristian Thompson, on the more versatile offensive option for the Wizards in Markieff Morris. The Wizards immediately went to Gortat who settled for a jump hook that hit the back rim. If the Cavs do that again, Gortat has to punish them more for that move.
-- Switching unnecessarily between Morris and Porter was a liability. Why? The Cavs would force the switch by running a 3-4 pick-and-roll between. Love got Cleveland's first basket off of this as he bullied Porter in the post, as Morris switched out onto James. The Wizards have to minmize these switches and get the ball out of Love's hands immediately if they end up in this position. It favors Cleveland heavily.
The Cavs played at the Charlotte Hornets on Friday so they're playing a back-to-back, too. James logged 39 minutes and Irving 37. In blowing out Brooklyn, no one in the starting five for the Wizards played more than 25 minutes.
This not only is their last chance to beat Cleveland, but their best chance.
John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards battle LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night as they aim to continue rising the ranks of the NBA's Eastern Conference.
Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch…
WASHINGTON WIZARDS at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Where: Quicken Loans Arena
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m.
TV: CSN (coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: CSNmidatlantic.com
Radio: 1500 AM
Three things to watch...
Start of a long road trip
The Wizards took care of business this week by beating both the Hawks and Nets at home and in doing so clinched a playoff spot. That was all great, but their road is about to get much, much tougher. On Saturday night they begin what is arguably their toughest stretch of the entire season with their season series finale against the defending-champion Cavaliers.
After playing Cleveland in a game that will also be the second leg of a back-to-back, the Wizards play at the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz and Warriors. Add it all up and they are playing four playoff-bound teams and last year's two Finals participants all on the road. It's a brutal stretch that will probably tell us a lot about the Wizards right before they enter the playoffs.
Still plenty to play for
Just because the Wizards have locked up their spot in the playoffs, doesn't mean there isn't anything to watch as they play the regular season out. First and foremost is the race for playoff seeding in the East. The Wizards currently sit third and 2 1/2 games behind Boston in second. The Wizards are just one game ahead of the No. 4 seed Raptors. With 10 games left, a lot of movement can happen as the Wizards hope to maintain top three status.
The Wizards also have a chance for history. The magic number is now three for the Wizards to edge the Hawks for the Southeast Division title. It wouldn't mean much for playoff seeding under the NBA's current rules, but it would snap the longest division title drought in the NBA. The Wizards haven't won a division in 38 seasons, since 1978-79, but look poised to buck that trend this year.
The Wizards have already lost the season series to the Cavs by way of their two defeats at home. On Saturday they will be playing for the third and final time. In the first two meetings, the Wizards lost both games in large part due to Cleveland's ability to shoot the three. In the first game on Nov. 11 they hit 14 threes on 33 attempts, shooting 42.4 percent. In the second meeting on Feb. 6 they hit 19 threes on 38 attempts at 50 percent. The Wizards have had trouble defending the three since the All-Star break, so Saturday will provide a good test for them.
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