Rarely in sports do you see teams that can very easily be out of the playoffs or win the championship. The Los Angeles Lakers (42-30) for 2020-21 (42-30) come forward because they sustained injuries, to the no. 7 and then was not considered an underdog in the first round. lost in six games.
Similarly, the Washington Mystics in 2021 is a loaded team, like the Lakers, who have not yet had their loaded team fully available. Two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne only played her first game on August 22 because she recovered from back surgery. Another former MVP, Tina Charles, led the league in the absence of Delle Donne, but her efforts were not enough to bring the winning basketball to DC. Now, Charles is out with a gluteal strain and the Mystics are 2-2 during their last series without her. On top of that, Myisha Hines-Allen, who is also expected to be a star in Washington this year, missed 10 of 26 games.
The interesting thing, however, is that Delle Donne, Charles and Hines-Allen can all be healthy for the playoffs, and the Mystics (10-16) are currently in the playoffs despite all the madness. The New York Liberty lost Thursday night, dropping them a half-game under the Mystics in eighth place.
Washington joined the playoffs last year and was praised for reaching the off-season without Delle Donne, Charles, Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders, all of whom were excluded. However, they are not expected to go far, and they lost in the first round with a Shey Peddy beater against the Phoenix Mercury. This year, things could be different, as the Mystics would be too scary if Delle Donne and Charles were healthy. A roster with the two healthy, especially the 2021 version of Charles, playing some of the best basketball in her career, would face the hurdle of not being in full swing, but could beat any team in one game, even the Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces or Seattle Storm, and make a series a series.
However, Delle Donne has worsened her back and it is not clear when she will be able to play again or how healthy she will be. So we can not run away by thinking that there will be no problems for the Mystics, even if Delle Donne and Charles play in the playoffs. And then there is the issue of the playoffs.
Washington has to face the Minnesota Lynx (17-9) and the Storm (19-10) and Chicago Sky (14-14) twice each time. These will all be tough matches. The two remaining games of the Mystics are against the Liberty (11-18) and Atlanta Dream (6-20).
If Washington misses the playoffs, it will be difficult to blame head coach Mike Thibault or any of the players. In addition to Delle Donne and Charles’ injuries, the team was without Alysha Clark and Emma Meesseman all season. Clark is out with a Lisfranc injury and Meesseman had foreign obligations. Charles was an MVP candidate and Ariel Atkins is a fitting co-star, but without Delle Donne’s firepower, the Mystics would not be up against the other super teams in the league.
Still, it would be a huge disappointment for Washington to miss the playoffs because they were looking at a possible dynasty when they signed Charles after winning the 2019 championship. Charles and Delle Donne who played together were then postponed due to COVID, and now the Mystics are looking at more misfortune after two lost opportunities after a second title.
Charles will be an unlimited free agent after this season and Hines-Allen will be a limited free agent. Meanwhile, Meesseman’s contract has expired. We’ll see if Washington can find a way to maintain a super team roster for next year, but there is no guarantee that they will.
As for the playoffs this year, it could depend on whether Charles and Delle Donne, or at least one of them, can contribute during the remaining six games in the regular season. If the Mystics want to do a miracle through the playoffs, they will need a bit of magic to start now, as the Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks (10-18) are breathing down their necks.