Sancho Lyttle was a key contributor to the Atlanta Dream's run to the WNBA finals in 2010, which began with a series victory over the Washington Mystics. A leave of absence to play overseas and an injury have kept her from having a similar impact for much of this season.
Now back in the starting lineup, Lyttle will try to bolster her team's chances of returning to the playoffs when the Dream face the last-place Mystics on Tuesday night.
A year after winning the Eastern Conference title, the Dream (9-11) have struggled for consistency. That's likely due in part to Lyttle missing 12 games, as she took six contests off to play for Spain in the European championships and sat out another six while recovering from a back injury.
The 6-foot-4, 193-pound Lyttle's physical presence was a big reason why Atlanta earned the first playoff series win in franchise history in 2010, beating Washington. She averaged 15.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in the three games and had 20 points and 10 boards in the clinching victory.
"Sancho is always talking to her teammates and making sure everyone is in their right place," coach Marynell Meadors said. "Sancho is just a great team player and a great player to have."
In Lyttle's first start since June 14, the Dream had one of their best defensive efforts of the season in a rematch of last year's WNBA finals. They forced 29 turnovers - tying a league season high - in a 70-53 victory over Seattle on Sunday.
Atlanta avoided a third straight loss and pulled within percentage points of Chicago for the final East playoff berth.
Angel McCoughtry had a team-best 17 points in her first start after dealing with illness. The league's second-leading scorer at 19.9 points per game had come off the bench in the previous two contests.
McCoughtry averaged a team-best 22.7 points in the playoff series win over Washington and had 33 in an 86-79 win at the Verizon Center on July 20. A knee injury suffered in training camp limited her to three minutes during a 98-90 overtime defeat to the Mystics on June 9.
Washington (4-14) dropped 13 of 15 after that win before beating New York 91-81 on Saturday. Matee Ajavon matched a career-high with 32 points to power her team's second-best scoring performance of the season.
Crystal Langhorne added 20 points and the Mystics made 28 of 29 free-throw attempts while recording their second win over a conference opponent. Langhorne, fourth in the league with 18.4 points a game, had a season-high 30 along with 13 rebounds during the win over Atlanta in June.
"We're focused," Ajavon said. "We've dropped some games, and we just know that it's not over."
The Mystics have won five of the last seven regular-season matchups with the Dream but have dropped two of the previous three meetings at home.