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Washington Mystics escape injury ‘hell’ amid WNBA playoff race

Brittney Sykes, Myisha Hines-Allen, Natasha Cloud and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough of the Mystics look on during an Aug. 29 win against the Lynx. (Kenny Giarla/NBAE via Getty Images)

With injured players making their returns to the court, the Washington Mystics look like a completely different team compared to just weeks ago.

For the first time since early June, Washington has a healthy roster. Elena Delle Donne and Shakira Austin, who both missed significant time with injuries, are back on the court. And in Tuesday’s 83-72 win over the Lynx, not a single name was listed on the injury report.

“It was just a really dope moment,” Natasha Cloud told the Washington Post. “We’ve been through f—ing hell.

“It was a rough month and a half [of] playing down numbers, playing crazy lineups, having to adjust in a lot of minutes. So just to have everyone back [when] we’re making this playoff push and we’re really starting to peak and putting some wins together, it’s like the sweetest moment of the season for me right now.”

Kristi Toliver also made her return Tuesday, playing for the first time since June 16 after suffering from plantar fasciitis. And while Toliver, Delle Donne, Austin and Ariel Atkins remain on minute restrictions, it’s a step in the right direction.

With Tuesday’s win, the Mystics leapfrogged the Lynx into the fifth playoff spot. The Mystics (17-18) now hold a half-game lead on Minnesota and Atlanta with five games left in the regular season.

“It’s huge,” Brittney Sykes said of the win. “No, seriously, it is really big. We don’t want to get too caught up in looking ahead or thinking about, ‘Oh, well, if these teams win, if we win it, if we lose, they lose’ — it’s literally controlling our controllables.”

Of course, the team still has to juggle its returning players and monitor their progress. But the Mystics could be coming together at just the right time.

“It was good to have options,” head coach Eric Thibault said. “It feels a little choppy yet, kind of because I’m putting people in and yanking them out. We didn’t get a great rhythm, but we made some shots. Made some shots late in the clock, which was probably the difference in the game. We’ve been on the wrong end of a couple of those. We kept defending. I don’t know if we win this game earlier in the season.”