- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2019

Elena Delle Donne celebrated her 30th birthday Thursday with a tough practice with the Washington Mystics. Her birthday wish was no surprise.

“It would come in over a month, I guess, and it would be a WNBA championship,” she said.

The Mystics have taken steps closer and closer to fulfilling that dream. First, they had two major regular-season goals: to secure a top-two position in the standings that earns them a double postseason bye, and if possible, to finish No. 1 to lock up home-court advantage.

The former is in the bag. For the latter, the Mystics just need to win out.

Beating the Dallas Wings on Friday and the Chicago Sky on Sunday would give Washington a final record of 26-8, out of reach of the second-place Connecticut Sun. Entering Friday one game ahead of the Sun, the Mystics can also clinch home court with a combination of one win and one Connecticut loss.

But if the teams finish the season with matching records, the Sun hold the head-to-head tiebreaker — they beat Washington in their season series 2-1.

Either way, the Mystics know they’ll play their first two playoff games Sept. 17 and 19 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena to kick off their league semifinal series. Tickets were available on pre-sale earlier this week.

The WNBA playoffs may run through the District, even though the Mystics haven’t been fully healthy for about a month.

Their second-best player, All-Star guard Kristi Toliver, hasn’t played since Aug. 8 after suffering a knee contusion. Coach Mike Thibault said Toliver won’t return until the playoffs, but he’ll try to work her out in two “game-like situations” between Sunday and Sept. 17.

“There’s no reason to play (Toliver) this weekend,” Thibault said. “I think where she is with things, it would be too much of a risk.”

Meanwhile, forward Tianna Hawkins will also miss Friday’s game so she can continue to rest a sore knee, but probably will play Sunday, Thibault said. Aerial Powers will play both games after missing some time with a re-aggravated gluteal injury.

Thibault hopes the eight-day layoff between the season finale and Game 1 of the semifinals can help Washington return to full health. But in a way, even thinking that far in advance undercuts the team’s exhaustive focus on the game in front of them.

“The mindset’s the same as it’s been since the first day of training camp. Take whatever the next game is at hand and deal with that,” Thibault said. “We can’t wait and see if Connecticut loses. We just go and win our game … We’re not worried about Sunday, we’re not worried about 10 days from now. Be better tomorrow than we were today.”

“You never want to look too far ahead, and even though there’s only two games left, you’ve got to take it one at a time,” Delle Donne said.

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