Mystics defeat Fever and prepare for playoff encounter against Storm

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INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Thibault confirmed he didn’t send a gift basket to the Los Angeles Sparks as he sat answering questions in the bowels of Hinkle Fieldhouse. But a sly smile crept across his face on Friday afternoon at the thought.

Shortly after, Thibault’s Mystics beat Indiana Fever, 82-70, to cap a day that began with them learning they will have a lottery pick in the 2023 draft. They will get the choice of the Sparks after Los Angeles was eliminated from the playoffs on Thursday night.

“It’s not very often that you wake up and know you’re a playoff team and a lottery team at the same time,” said Thibault. “It’s a good feeling because we’re playing for something and we also have a way to keep building.”

Thibault, also general manager of the Mystics, obtained this coveted choice thanks to a trade with Atlanta last offseason. He sent the No. 1 overall pick to the Dream for his No. 3 pick, Atlanta’s second round in 2022 and the opportunity to trade first-round picks in 2023. The Dream was in possession of the first round of the Sparks and included him in the deal. At the time, the Dream did not expect to be in playoff contention while the Sparks were looking to have a playoff slate.

Then the season fell apart for the Sparks with the firing of coach and general manager Derek Fisher and the acrimonious parting with center Liz Cambage, who left after 25 games after signing as a free agent during the off season. The outcome for the Sparks was the win for the Mystics.

“You never know how these things are going to play out, but we felt like we were going to be a playoff team,” Thibault said. “And even if LA had been a playoff team, a chance to increase a few more picks in the draft was worth the bet. And if it wasn’t, we might choose to keep ours. So that was a no-win situation for us.

“But the fact that it turned out to be a lottery pick and we might have some decent chances in the lottery, we’ll see. When you make these deals, you hope for the best and the best.

Things to know about Friday’s game:

The Mystics (21-14) almost led wire to wire. They basically went for the 12-point win with Fever’s last lead at 6-5. Everyone who played scored, and Elena Delle Donne led the team with 24 points and seven rebounds. Elizabeth Williams scored 10 off the bench and Shakira Austin had 11 rebounds.

The team desperately wanted to get back on track losing their previous two games.

It felt good to get out here, be on the road and get a road win,” said Delle Donne. “It’s always important, but I think we always know we can take another step, especially in the build-up to what’s to come.

“But obviously it’s always good to get a win on the road, but we can always do a bit more. Can’t wait to come back on Sunday.

The regular season ends Sunday with a home game against the Fever (5-30).

The Mystics, locked in a playoff game with the Storm, will open the best-of-three series with two games in Seattle. The Storm’s win over Minnesota secured the No. 4 seed.

Delle Donne said every time the Mystics take to the field these days, it’s preparation for the storm. Fever presents a good opportunity towards this end; Indiana has former Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg on staff to coach the defense.

Forward Myisha Hines-Allen (health and safety protocols) missed the game, but is expected to be cleared ahead of the playoffs. The self-proclaimed “Bench Mob” took over with Williams finding his scoring touch, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough reaching the free-throw line and being a nuisance for the defense and Rui Machida (four assists) pushing the pace.

“Elena will tell you, championship teams, they need a bench,” Williams said. “It’s usually a team that can use all of their pieces very well. So I know whenever the bench crowd comes in, we try to bring a lot of energy, try to get some rebounds and do little things like that. [I] I also had a few low post touches, just trying to move without the ball because that’s important for the playoffs.

“It’s going to take us all.”

The Mystics end each shooting session with a half-court shooting contest, with the winner taking some money from everyone. That Friday morning winner was newcomer Jazmine Jones, who signed with the team on Wednesday.

“This is my first half-court shot of the year,” Jones said. “I said it was crazy, it would be my first shoot-around with Washington. I do the half-court shooting and I get $100 a day, so I’m okay with that.

Jones was out of the league after completing three seven-day contracts with the Connecticut Sun on July 13. She was previously on Fever’s training camp roster before dropping out on May 1 and joining the Sun on June 15.

The 6-foot guard and 2020 No. 12 overall pick has spent that free time in Tallahassee training and hoping for a call-up. The phone rang at 1 p.m. Tuesday and she was on a plane to Washington shortly after 8 p.m. Jones averaged 10.8 points in 20 games as a rookie for the New York Liberty. She did not play on Friday.

“It was tough,” Jones said. “So I try to stay off social media. Stay grounded, stay humble. Keep my family around me. Don’t listen to the noise outside because it’s still not good.

Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of Butler University, serves as a temporary home for the fever. The team’s home arena, Gainbridge Fieldhouse, is being refurbished. Hinkle, built in 1928, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

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