Elena Delle Donne expecting to play more games as season winds down

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Delle Donne expecting to play more games as season winds down originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- Needing rest days throughout the season might be fewer and far between for Elena Delle Donne as the Washington Mystics season winds down.

After Sunday's win over the Minnesota Lynx, the Mystics franchise player gave encouraging news on how her progression has come this season.

"[My schedule is] pretty set. But sometimes we take it week by week and alter things kind of just depending on how things are going," Delle Donne said. "It's something we'll kind of figure out as we go but I should be more games than at the beginning of the year for sure."

No other benchmarks to hit for her. Based on how she feels leading up to each game, the team believes there are only one, maybe two games where she'll have to rest this regular season.

The sole preparation, physically, is to make sure her body is ready for the playoffs.

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That's a huge relief for a team that is drastically different in the games in which she does play as opposed to the games that she doesn't. When the two-time MVP suits up, Washington is 13-5. At a .722 win percentage, that pace would situate the Mystics as the No. 2 team in the WNBA, behind only the defending champion Chicago Sky.

However, she has not played in nine games, resulting in a 3-6 record.

Combine those and the reality is the Mystics are 16-11 and fifth in the league standings. They're four games back of Chicago for the top spot and also five games to the good of the first team out of the playoffs, Phoenix. Under the new playoff format, they're in a precarious situation of fighting to ensure they are the host team (top four) for a best-of-three first-round series.

Get seeded fifth through eighth and there's a chance they're eliminated before even playing a home playoff game.

But as opposed to the first half of the season, there is little practice time reserved for situations where she isn't dressed. The game plan mostly assumes Delle Donne will play.

"It's now many more things that have her in mind most of the time as far as offensive sets, things like that," head coach Mike Thibault told NBC Sports Washington. "She feels like she can test her body a little bit more too."

It's been building as the season has gone on. She sat four of the first 12 games of the season for strictly rest purposes. Over the last eight - with an All-Star break in-between, she's only missed one contest.

Now with her solidly in the fray, it's time for the Delle Donne-centered Mystics to show whether they're gearing up for a championship run. Because there's no question about their ceiling when she doesn't play (i.e. the 3-6 record and the past two seasons), the question is how high can they go with her.

"As the season's gone on, I've just gotten more and more comfortable, playing physical and playing more games, obviously," Delle Donne said. "So it's been so much fun, being able to be in more games and not having to take them off and watch the team from the sidelines. So I'm feeling great and getting stronger each day and happy to just be able to contribute."