The goal is simple for the reigning WNBA champion Washington Mystics: win their final regular-season game and they’ll have a chance to defend that title.
A season-high fourth straight victory in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Atlanta Dream will secure the Mystics that eighth and final playoff spot inside the “Wubble” at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
There was a time not long ago when it seemed the playoffs weren’t in the cards for Washington (8-13). The Mystics, who have played the season minus stars Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud, dropped their first seven games of August, after opening 3-0, and were mired in a five-game slide before winning four of the last five.
While Washington’s 75-58 victory over last-place New York on Saturday eliminated surging Atlanta (7-14) from postseason contention, it kept the reigning league champion in control of its own playoff destiny with a one-game lead over Dallas for the final playoff spot.
A victory over the Dream would give the Mystics the eighth and final playoff spot. Should they lose, and Dallas beats New York on Sunday, then the Wings would claim the last postseason position.
“We’re playing with a sense of urgency, that’s really what it is,” forward Myisha Hines-Allen told The Washington Post.
This contest is a makeup from the Aug. 27 postponement of games as result of the boycott following the unrest and violence in the wake of the police shooting of black man Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
“If the price is a back-to-back to get chance to play for a playoff spot, then we’ll take it,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault told NBC Sports Washington. “Hopefully, if you want to win bad enough, you’ll try to figure out a way to grind through it.”
Hines-Allen (17.1 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game) continued her stellar play with 25 points and 11 rebounds Saturday, as Washington scored the first nine points of the game and held the Liberty to 38.2-percent shooting. Hines-Allen has averaged 24.0 points and 10.2 boards over her last five contests.
Hines-Allen scored 23 points in Washington’s 98-91 win over Atlanta on Aug. 19. Betnijah Laney broke out for 35 points while Courtney Williams scored 30 in that contest for the Dream, who thanks to the play of Laney and a healthy star rookie Chennedy Carter (16.9 ppg), made a serious push toward the postseason while amid a rebuilding campaign.
Carter had 22 points, Williams (15.2 ppg) scored 20 and Laney added 14 with 10 rebounds as Atlanta won its second straight and fourth in five games Friday, 82-75 over Connecticut.
While the Dream are grateful to have Carter back from an ankle injury, Laney truly allowed the club to keep its collective head above water and remain in the playoff hunt until the final weekend of the regular season. The 6-foot Laney is averaging a career-high 16.7 points on the season, and totaled at least 21 in two straight games prior to Friday’s contest.
“If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it,” Laney told the Dream’s official website. So, that’s just kind of what’s driven me in almost every aspect of my life, whether it’s playing on the basketball court or playing any kind of game.”