Mystics optimistic as they begin three-game road trip at Sparks

The Washington Mystics begin a three-game road trip Friday starting with a matchup against the Los Angeles Sparks. With the team’s away games beginning so early in the season, the Mystics look to answer questions of road performance and how they will respond to adversity in its truest form.

“I don’t necessarily know what I can take from game one,” head coach Mike Thibault said in reference to his team’s 89-74 win over the San Antonio Stars to open the season. “San Antonio didn’t have all of their players so it’s a lot of different. The step up and the challenge is going to be a lot different than what it was.”

The Mystics are feeling opportunistic about starting their road travels. Thibault recalled the training camps and preseason preparation a “chaotic part of the season” that left them no time to really get to know each other. Now with three road games, starting with a five-hour flight to face the Los Angeles Sparks, this is the perfect opportunity for the team to bond.

“I think this team is looking forward to being on the road,” Thibault said. “Training camp was so chaotic and short. There was so much going on with changing time practices, meetings, and things you have to do for the league. Everyday there was something more they had to do. I think it’ll be good for them.”

Last season, the Mystics finished 8-9 on the road. Most of their problems stemmed from their offense. Thibault, who signed a four-year contract extension with the franchise this week, made moves in the offseason to help rectify this Achilles heel. Now he looks to see the team play with the assets that will bring them more chances at victory.

“I think in order to be a good team you have be over .500 on the road,” Thibault said. “I thought we were okay on the road. We weren’t very good at home last year either. I don’t think we’re scared of the road.”

A huge offensive piece for the Mystics, center Emma Meesseman, will not be with the team for several weeks after the road trip to prepare and compete in EuroBasket Women 2017 with the Belgian national team. She will return in late June.

Meesseman was third in scoring against San Antonio with 13 points and led the team with nine rebounds. Though she will be gone for a month, she is focused on playing her part against the Sparks and the remaining games on the road trip.

“In every single year I’ve been here, it’s been game-by-game, step-by-step,” Meesseman said. “It’s no different this year so I’m here and I have my mind here. It’s no different for me. The three games are what we’re really worried about.”

In addition to Meesseman, new additions Kristi Toliver and Elena Delle Donne are looking forward to showcasing their talents against teams on the upcoming road schedule. They will also be competing against their former squads.

“The home opener was good for us just to get our feet wet,” Toliver said about the upcoming challenge. “When you go on the road, that’s when true adversity hits. I think to be tested on the road so early in the season will be good for us and help our growth. We’re going to face tons of adversity. L.A., Seattle and Chicago will all in the same for us.”

Toliver will be visiting both of her former teams in the WNBA. She spent her rookie season with the Chicago Sky in 2009. She continued her career with the reigning champs, the Sparks, for seven seasons. As Toliver continues to serve as a high-caliber performer the Mystics have been looking for, her presence could push the team in a more positive direction.

“I’ve been in the game long enough,” Toliver said, “I know what I bring to the team and obviously scoring is one of those things. I just have to do what I do best. It’s why Washington wanted me here and I play my role.”

Delle Donne said that the defensive part will be a deciding moment in games on the road. Against her former team, the Sky, Delle Donne is preparing to play in the best interest of the Mystics.

“We’re coming against some really challenging teams,” Delle Donne said. “It’s always tougher on the road. L.A. is going to be a huge test defensively because they’ve got fours and fives that can play the guard position, so I know we can rely on our shooting, but that’s not always going to win games.”

The next three games could help Thibault envision running the floor with Delle Donne and replacing Meesseman. With Delle Donne collecting 24 points and eight rebounds, running sets without Meesseman and putting Delle Donne in Meesseman’s five position could help the Mystics retain their powerful defense while the Belgian competes in EuroBasket.

The Mystics will open their three-game road series against the Sparks on Friday May 19, face the Seattle Storm on May 21 and close at the Sky on May 24.   Thibault knows the challenge they face against the reigning champs to begin their road games and the quality of play the Mystics will face.

“You’ve got some of the best players in the world,” Thibault said about the Sparks.” They’re champions for a reason. When you prepare for them, you must prepare for personnel and figure out how you will handle the pressure they apply. You have to see if you can execute what you want to against that pressure.”

The Sparks will receive their championship rings before their game against the Mystics. The ceremony will be live streamed on Twitter. Game tip off is at 7:30 PT/10:30 PT. The game will be available on League Pass, Spectrum SportsNet and Monumental Network.

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