The Washington Mystics finished the regular season with a 16-18 record, good enough to secure the No. 3 seed in the 2014 WNBA Playoffs. The Mystics will open the postseason at No. 2 seeded Indiana Fever Aug. 21. Game Two will be Aug. 23 at Verizon Center, and Game Three, if necessary, will be Aug. 25 in Indiana.
Washington clinched a playoff berth with a 71-67 road win against the Connecticut Sun Aug. 15. Washington's road loss during the final game of the regular season, 73-61, to the New York Liberty, coupled with a 71-67 win by the Fever against the Chicago Sky Aug. 16 determined the playoff seeding. The Mystics and Fever split their regular season series, 2-2.
"It feels great," said Ivory Latta, the Mystics All-Star point guard, of making it to the playoffs. "We're definitely blessed to be here, but we're not finished. We're not just complacent or satisfied just making the playoffs. We want to make some noise. We're going to get ready the next couple of days, and go to Indiana and hopefully get that win."
The practice sessions leading up to the postseason, Latta said, were an opportunity for the players to get in a playoff mindset and understand the increased level of intensity that comes with playoff basketball.
"The playoffs; it's a dogfight," Latta said. "Some fouls may not be called. You've just got to go out there and play hard."
The Mystics have qualified for the postseason for the second straight year under head coach and general manager Mike Thibault, who was hired by Washington in December 2012 after 10 seasons with the Connecticut Sun.
Thibault, a three-time WNBA Coach of the Year, has an overall regular-season record of 33-35 since joining the Mystics. During 12 seasons as a WNBA coach, Thibault has missed the playoffs twice.
At a recent pre-playoff practice session, Thibault talked about how he's getting the team prepared.
"After 48 hours off, you just need to get in the gym and stretch and do some shooting and watch some film," Thibault said. "We need to try to clean up some little things where we've been making sloppy mistakes. Tomorrow, we'll kind of gear it up a little bit."
During the four regular-season meetings between the Mystics and the Fever, Washington won its two games in decisive fashion, defeating Indiana, 79-63, May 23, and, 74-61, Aug. 8. The losses were much closer, with the Mystics dropping the June 6 contest, 64-61, and the July 2 contest, 80-77. Still, defeating the Fever, who have home-court advantage during the opening-round playoff series, won't be an easy task.
"This is a team that's two years removed from a championship," Thibault said. "A lot of the same people are there, particularly in the starting lineup. They're a very aggressive team. They foul a lot, and they get called during the regular season. You just hope it gets called the same during the playoffs.
"We're just trying to get our players to understand that [during the playoffs] it's as much about mental things as it is physical. You can't give in to the pressure. If a bad call goes your way, you just move on to the next play. That's the experience they have that we don't."
Despite the discrepancy between Washington's youth and Indiana's experience, Thibault's message to his team was simple: have fun.
"You earned being here," Thibault said. "It takes a lot of work to get to the playoffs, so once you get there, enjoy it."