Mystics look to keep rolling vs. slumping Liberty

WASHINGTON — The Washington Mystics go for their fourth straight win when they host the New York Liberty on Thursday night.

The last time the teams met, the Mystics upset the Liberty in a single-elimination, second-round playoff matchup 82-68 in September and the teams have traveled in opposite directions this season.

Washington (9-5) sits atop the Eastern Conference while the Liberty (4-9) have lost three straight and are having problems finding the basket. New York has failed to hit the 70-point mark three times this season, including in their past two contests.

The Liberty nearly rallied back from an early deficit against the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday, trailing 30-16 after one quarter, but they could not complete the comeback, falling 83-69 at home. Tina Charles led the Liberty with 12 points and Bria Hartley and Shavonte Zellous added 11 each.

“We spotted them a good amount in the first quarter,” New York coach Katie Smith said. “The third quarter we could not get any buckets. We had 11 points in the quarter. Scoring points right now is hard for us and we need to find a way to put points on the board.”

With a layup in the first quarter, Charles scored the 5,014th point of her career, surpassing Taj McWilliams-Franklin to move into 18th on the WNBA all-time scoring list on a night she took just 12 shots and made four.

“She needs to touch the ball a little more and be a facilitator,” Smith said. “At times, we feel the need to allow her to touch the basketball to suck the defense in. I will take her attacking the basket, going in there and getting fouled. We still have to play through her a good bit while still be aggressive at every other position.”

The Mystics also fell behind by double digits in the first quarter Tuesday night, trailing the visiting Connecticut Sun by 10. Washington’s stepped up its defense and defeated the Sun 92-80 to take over sole possession of first place and improve to 2-1 against Connecticut.

Washington trailed by three at halftime but went on a 16-point run midway through the third quarter.

“It’s amazing when you play really good defense what kind of things can happen,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault told the Washington Post.

Elena Delle Donne led all scorers with 25 points and LaToya Sanders had a career-high 18 points and eight rebounds.

“We’re trying to be a championship team, so when we play other good teams, we can’t just get blown out by 30 when we know we have the talent and 12 healthy players now to compete with anybody in this league,” Sanders told the Post.

The Liberty have been victimized by the 3-pointer of late, allowing 20 makes from deep at a 51 percent clip over the past two games. That does not bode well against a Washington team that leads the WNBA in 3-point shooting percentage (36.6 percent).