While the short-handed Washington Mystics have not wrapped up the No. 1 overall seed for the WNBA playoffs, their tinkering ahead of the postseason should continue Tuesday night when they face the free-falling New York Liberty.
The Mystics (23-8) have clinched a bye into the semifinals and will be no worse than the No. 2 seed as they enter this contest one game ahead of Connecticut with three to play. Since the Sun hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, Washington must -- at the moment -- win out to assure itself of the top seed.
Washington has played all of its stretch run without starting guard Kristi Toliver, who has missed the last eight games with a bone bruise on her right knee and is not expected back until the playoffs start.
The Mystics also were without backup point guard Ariel Atkins in their 91-85 victory at Dallas on Saturday, which forced coach Mike Thibault to experiment with his "big" lineup.
Elena Delle Donne had her usual productive game with 28 points and nine rebounds, while Emma Meesseman contributed 19 points, seven boards and seven assists as Washington set a single-season franchise record for wins.
"There's always a mismatch that we try to exploit," Delle Donne told The Washington Post about their big lineup. "Not only that, but Emma's a great shooter. She's super efficient, so we're able to spread the floor and kind of spread the defense out."
Washington is looking for its fourth straight win and 10th in 11 games as it wraps up the road portion of its schedule. The Mystics close their season against Dallas and playoff-bound Chicago.
The Liberty (9-22) are playing out the string in miserable fashion, with only Atlanta behind them in the 12-team league. New York has dropped four straight and 12 of 13 after losing 94-84 at home to Connecticut on Friday night, with coach Katie Smith opting to give her younger players significant minutes down the stretch.
Rookie Marie Johannes had season highs of 21 points and six assists, while second-round pick and 6-foot-9 center Xan Hu hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished with a season-high 12 points. New York is currently in the lead to have the best odds in the WNBA lottery with its rolling two-year record of 16-49, but Smith would hear no talk of her team tanking.
"There's no talk about trying to tank or anything like that," she told New York Newsday. "We're coming out to compete."
Veteran center Tina Charles could return to the lineup after being rested against the Sun, but No. 2 overall pick Asia Durr is likely done for the season as a strained groin sidelined her for a ninth consecutive contest. Durr has averaged 9.7 points in 18 games while missing 13 with injuries.
Washington began its current winning streak with a 101-72 thrashing of New York on Aug. 25 when Delle Donne had 22 points and 10 rebounds in just 24 minutes. The Mystics are trying to complete a series sweep of the Liberty for the second straight year.
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