During Wednesday’s practice, Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault ran through defensive sets before they travel to the Midwest and face the Chicago Sky on Friday.
Mystics guard Natasha Cloud briefly explained to Thibault why she didn’t need to switch on a certain play.
A few minutes later, Thibault told the players to stop running and walk through the play.
Before he said he will “nitpick” to ensure the defense runs properly, he praised Cloud: “You see why Tash didn’t want to switch?”
One reason rests with Cloud as the team’s main perimeter defender. In addition, Thibault allows the players to speak freely and offer suggestions.
“It’s really nice to have not only the team, but the coaching staff trust in what I think the best thing is,” Cloud said. “This is a democracy. We need to talk through things [and] what makes us feel comfortable as players.”
The old phrase “practice makes perfect” has allowed the Mystics (20-7) to win six straight games and 11 of their last 12.
Washington owns the best record in the WNBA, but only sits one game ahead of the Connecticut Sun (19-8) and 1½ games in front of the Las Vegas Aces (19-9). All three have clinched a playoff berth.
With seven regular season games left, Thibault made clear the team’s goal before the playoffs start next month.
“I think they know I’m nitpicking for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One, to keep us alert. Two, we want that home-court [advantage] and bye at the start of the playoffs. We want to get better into the playoffs. We don’t want to be the same two weeks from now. Hopefully, every day we get a little bit better.”
Besides the team pushing to win the franchise’s first WNBA championship, Washington could experience some other firsts this season:
• Exceed 22 wins in a season.
• Cloud is 32 assists shy of the most in a season to surpass Nikki Teasley’s mark of 183 set in 2006.
The team currently leads the league in several categories such as average margin of victory at 20 points per game, total points per game at nearly 89, almost 22 assists per game and 87 percent in free throw percentage.
Meanwhile, Mystics All-Star forward Elena Delle Donne could win WNBA MVP. She currently ranks number one in free-throw shooting at 96 percent, third in scoring with 19 points per contest and fifth in rebounds per game at eight per game.
She also garnered Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors for a second straight week to help her team achieve a 3-0 record between Aug. 12-19. It’s Delle Donne’s sixth time this season receiving that distinction.
“Best WNBA team I’ve ever played on,” she said. “It’s been a great year. So many great players have stepped at different times and different moments throughout the season. It’s been really fun out there just playing and having fun together.”