"Making the Playoffs"
As the Mystics
head into the WNBA's month-long Olympic break with a record of 10-16, they nonetheless find themselves only 2 games behind the Indiana Fever
for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And while there is little question that some of the Mystics are playing with greater effort under new Interim Head Coach Jessie Kenlaw
, the recent tightening of the race for fourth place has much more to do with the Fever's hitting a "midseason snag" than it does the Mystics' own play, as the Washington Post's Katie Carrera
recognized in two recent articles
The Mystics have the unenviable distinction of being the lowest scoring team in the WNBA, as well as leading the league in turnovers and having the lowest free throw shooting percentage. Also, they are one of only two teams in the league with a losing record at home
(the other being the expansion, cellar-dwelling Atlanta Dream).
In other words, the Mystics haven't exactly shown (to date at least) that they are worthy of postseason play. Perhaps that's why expert analyst (and BasketCases favorite) Mechelle Voepel joked this week: "There's probably no way to give the East three teams in the playoffs and the West five, is there?"
The teams to which Mechelle is referring, who seem to have a lock on the top three spots in the East, are Connecticut, New York, and Detroit (though not necessarily in that order). The Mystics have already played those teams a total of 8 times, winning only one of those games -- the just barely eked-out home win over the Sun a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, the 7 losses to those three teams include one of the most embarrassing in Mystics history, as well as some other truly disappointing games (including last Sunday's loss to the Sun). Granted, most of those occurred on Tree's watch, and the BasketCases hope that the Mystics will do better after the break under Coach J-Law's direction when they square off in a home-and-home against Detroit and a single game against Connecticut up at Mohegan. (We don't play the Liberty again.) Those three games should tell us a great deal about whether the post-Olympics Mystics, if they do manage to edge into fourth place, are really ready to make a move in the post-season.
In the meantime, right now, there is still much talk from the Mystics' organization about the team "making the playoffs." The BasketCases are very much hoping that during this month-long hiatus, Coach J-Law can help the Mystics regroup and finish out the regular season on a good winning run. If the team shows us when they return that they can truly compete with the likes of Detroit, Connecticut and New Yawk -- and can enter the playoffs through the front door (not due to some post-Olympics meltdown by the Fever) -- then yes, we'll be extremely happy to see them "make the playoffs" and continue playing in the post-season. But until we see that, then no thanks, we're not drinking the Kool-Aid.
Sure, in the early years of the franchise, simply "making the playoffs" was important, no matter what happened. Indeed, we were among the screaming, ecstatic fans in the jam-packed Phone Booth back in August 2000 when the Mystics, in their third season, did just that. The noise in the arena as we faced the New York Liberty was deafening. The atmosphere was electric. Never mind that the Mystics were bounced out in the first round without winning a game, just getting there was thrilling.
The Mystics have made the playoffs only three times since, and on only one occasion -- in that magical 2002 season -- did they get past the first round. More recently, in 2004 and 2006, the Mystics made an early exit, just as they did in 2000. So for this franchise and its fans, just "making the playoffs" by squeaking into fourth place and then losing to the team in first place is truly a "been there, done that" experience. Maybe that prospect seems entertaining for new fans or new front office staff, but it's not an experience that we're particularly excited about. Some other longtime fans have told us they feel the same way. Back in Y2K, "making the playoffs" was a big step up. But when "making the playoffs" becomes the measure of a season's success for a franchise in its 11th year, then perhaps the bar has been set too low.