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*lifts head up from the start of the new school year*

Tonight on the Deuce, we get Washington v. Atlanta (congrats, Coach T!), followed by Phoenix v. L.A.

Discuss:

Mechelle: Mystics ride momentum into playoffs – Washington seeks first playoff win since 2002

It was three years ago — although it might seem like a lifetime to Mystics fans — that Washington and Atlanta met in the first round of the WNBA playoffs.

The Mystics had finished first in the Eastern Conference for the first time in 2010, while the Dream were fourth. But Atlanta swept Washington 2-0, Mystics coach Julie Plank and general manager Angela Taylor both departed (with some acrimony) after the season, and Washington won a combined 11 games over the next two seasons under coach/GM Trudi Lacey.

OK, just try to put that all out of your minds, Mystics fans. This season was a fresh start under veteran coach Mike Thibault.

The WaPo brings back Gene: Washington Mystics hope to continue recent strong play in WNBA playoffs

After directing a cultural shift within the organization during the regular season, first-yearWashington Mystics Coach Mike Thibault’s rebuilding project moves into Phase 2 on Thursday night when his club faces the Atlanta Dream in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Mystics (17-17) are the No. 3 seed following a season in which they more than tripled their win total from last year. They are making their first playoff appearance since 2010.

From WNBAlien: 2013 WNBA Playoff Previews: Eastern Conference First Round – Atlanta Dream vs. Washington Mystics

These teams finished tied with .500 records in the Eastern Conference, but arrived there by very different routes. Washington were a ‘win two here, lose three there’ kind of team all season long. They’d fight out a few results, then lose their way for a while, then remember what they needed to do to win games again. Just to make it this far has to be considered a success for Mike Thibault and his squad, considering the disastrous couple of years under Trudi Lacey that preceded this season. Meanwhile, Atlanta started the year 10-1, and then dropped into something resembling freefall. For those of you who can do basic math, you’ll be able to calculate that they went 7-16 over the remainder of the season. Injuries hit them hard, and it was a struggle to overcome them enough to regain real form in the second half of the year – plus not everyone is back. Both these teams are somehow predictably unpredictable, which makes foretelling how their series is going to play out rather tricky.

From Bob Corwin at Full Court: ATL vs. WAS playoff preview: Can the Dream put the pieces back together in postseason?

On paper, this series should be easy to call. Look at the Dream roster: It has more world class players and thus should be expected to win. However, the games are not played on paper and the subplots in this series could make it much more competitive and interesting than a casual fan might anticipate.

In spite of what pundits predict, the WNBA narrative often does not behave according to the script laid out for it.

Michelle: Stars, offenses take center stage – Best-of-three series opens in Los Angeles on Thursday

With a pair of high-scoring, star-studded teams, this might be the best first-round matchup of the WNBA postseason. The two teams, which haven’t met in the playoffs since 2009, split the season series after Los Angeles closed the regular season with a 34-point win over the depleted Mercury on Sunday.

And more Michelle: Sparks look to step it up in playoffs

 There’s an edge to the playoff conversation in the Sparks locker room.

Hunger, no doubt about it. But the Sparks don’t necessarily feel like they’ve played their best basketball yet.

And they’re impatient to get to that level.

“There are a lot of areas where we still need to improve,” coach Carol Ross said.

From Clay at Full Court: LA vs. PHX playoff preview: Can the Mercury pull it together for the postseason?

It comes down to this: Did Phoenix have time to put the pieces of the puzzle together despite the injuries and the coaching change?

If so, the Mercury have lots of weapons, and enough firepower to give anyone trouble. The timetable, though, was a little rushed, and if the team hasn’t completely gelled, it could be a rough postseason ride — as was indicated in the 89-55 pounding the Mercury took by the Sparks to close the season on Sunday.

No surprise, the ‘Kellians have some issues with that last observation, so they discuss it with Clay.

From Melissa at the LA Times (finally!) Sparks’ Candace Parker aims to go the distance in postseason this time

During a recent Sparks practice, Candace Parker paused the scrimmage three times to give her teammates instructions on defense.

She wasn’t going to allow the Sparks to make any mistakes before they begin their best-of-three first-round playoff series against Phoenix on Thursday at Staples Center (7 p.m.; TV: ESPN2).

“It certainly helps when the face of your franchise is locked in, because it makes it a lot easier for everyone to get in there as well,” Sparks Coach Carol Ross said.

The Sparks haven’t won a WNBA championship since winning titles in 2001 and 2002. The drought seems endless to Parker, who was selected by the Sparks as the top overall pick in the 2008 draft.

From Odeen at Arizona Central: Whether shooting or passing, Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi makes her point(s) (take that, .com dude)

No other player in the league affects her team’s scoring output more than the Mercury’s Diana Taurasi. Whether she puts the ball in the basket or helps a teammate do it, Taurasi influences the scoreboard as much as the person who pushes the button to change it.

This season, Taurasi scored 20.3 points and recorded 6.2 assists per game. Both averages were second-highest in the league. The assists average is a career high.

For Taurasi, accumulating a high assist average is simple.

“When you have DB (DeWanna Bonner), Penny (Taylor), (Candice) Dupree, BG (Brittney Griner),” Taurasi said, “if you don’t average six (assists per game), you suck.”

Odeen also offers up: Phoenix Mercury hitting stride as playoffs begin

“As a unit, I definitely think so,” forward Penny Taylor said. “We’ve made adjustments and, obviously, we have everyone healthy. We have had everyone out there for a couple of games. In implementing a lot of things that we’re doing, especially in the defensive end, I feel like everyone is getting it together.”

Ummm…. Yummy? Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner taste test: Bacon

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