- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2018

LeBron James wanted his social media followers to know he was watching some top-notch basketball on Tuesday night.

“Great offensive half for @PhoenixMercury vs @DallasWings!!” James wrote on Twitter. “Big shot by DT (Diana Taurasi) at end of half. Looking forward to the 2nd half.”

He was talking about the WNBA playoffs, which kicked off that night with the first of two rounds’ worth of single-elimination games.

The Washington Mystics, who rested up with a first-round bye, will play the Los Angeles Sparks Thursday with a trip to the semifinals on the line. The game, televised on ESPN2, tips off at 6:30 p.m. at the Charles E. Smith Center on George Washington University’s campus.

The No. 6 Sparks beat the Minnesota Lynx 75-68 Tuesday in their first-round contest, a rematch of the last two WNBA Finals. Point guard Chelsea Gray led Los Angeles with 26 points. Because they were the lower seed to advance Tuesday, the Sparks drew the No. 3 Mystics for Thursday’s second-round game.

Following the Mystics and Sparks, the Mercury visit the Connecticut Sun in the No. 5-vs. No. 4 matchup at 8:30.

The Sparks were just in the District last Friday. The Mystics won 69-67 on a remarkable buzzer-beater by Natasha Cloud. It was Washington’s eighth straight win at the time. It won its regular-season series with Los Angeles 2-1, but Thursday will be the first time the two teams meet in the playoffs.

The Mystics have never appeared in a WNBA Finals, but this could be the year they get over that hump. They finished the regular season with a 22-12 record, tying a franchise record from 2010. Last season, they reached the league semis as the sixth seed, upsetting the No. 3 New York Liberty to get that far. In the same round this season, Washington will be in the opposite role, trying to avoid an upset.

Elena Delle Donne has played in the WNBA Finals once, taking the 2014 Chicago Sky there in her second year in the league. But then they were swept by Phoenix, meaning one of the league’s pre-eminent stars is still questing for her first title.

The same can be said of coach Mike Thibault. The winningest coach in WNBA history has yet to add a championship to his career resume.

“We’ve been so close when I was coaching Connecticut. Been to the Finals a couple of times,” Thibault told The Washington Times in May. “If you’re a true competitor you want to win it. More than once, preferably. I don’t know if that’s the final, defining thing when you coach, but you’d certainly feel more complete.”

If the Mystics win Thursday, they’ll advance to a best-of-five series with the No. 2 Atlanta Dream that would begin Sunday in Atlanta.

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