Mystics' players have some theories on why they're struggling

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Mystics' players have theories on why they're struggling originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

After a five-week-long break due to the Tokyo Olympics, the Mystics started their second half of the season losing their first three games. It dropped them to a disappointing 8-13 record and a half game out of the playoff picture.

All of the players agree there's something wrong that is preventing them from maximizing their true potential. Everyone just has a different opinion on what exactly it is. 

Two of the losses were back-to-back against the league-leading Las Vegas Aces. The last loss was to the current No. 5 seed, the Phoenix Mercury. All three came on the road. 

First, let's start with the team leader and MVP candidate Tina Charles

"We need to be more locked in. We need to be more engaged. We got to want it more," Charles said after the first two losses. "It's not like we don't have the pieces to do it or the people who can do it. I don't know what to say, it's very disappointing at this point, a little bit. First half we look like a championship team and the second half, I'm not very sure."

She would later say how fatigue was beginning to set in with some people on the team. Physical fatigue is one element of that and - although she wouldn't say mental fatigue was an issue - she suggests that the team's discipline when facing adversity waned in those games too.

"The 2019 team here in Washington, very disciplined team. They've been together for three years, they knew what they wanted to get, they know the players to go to and very disciplined," Charles said. "So that's one of the main things that I'm trying to preach to these guys is that we have to be disciplined. That's the main thing. We're not consistently disciplined out there. We're consistently disciplined when things are going great. And then when things start to break down, we have been better at staying together, staying in huddles together but we just have to be disciplined, and those are the teams that make it all the way. "

Head coach Mike Thibault agreed with the physical aspect one game later.

Related: Mystics show they are close, but have far to go

Charles and Ariel Atkins had two of their worst shooting performances of the season in Phoenix. They were a combined 7-for-32 (21.9%) from the field and 1-for-13 (7.7%) from three. That can't be the product of the two best players. But, after the play and travel from the Olympics which just ended two weeks ago, it's understandable. 

"We're dog-tired right now, I hate to say it but we are exhausted," Thibault said after falling to the Mercury. "Our Olympians are tired. It showed up in [our] shooting legs tonight. We have a lot of people playing some big minutes and we had no legs to shoot the ball tonight, we just ran out of gas."

The only relief is that the team is back home and will be in D.C. for a week. Staying in one's own bed and no travel should help even with a packed three-game-a-week schedule. 

However, other players don't think exhaustion is a legitimate explanation for what is going on. 

"I don't like to use it as an excuse and you see other people that was at the Olympics and they're still going out," Leilani Mitchell told reporters. "I mean a good example is [Brittney Griner], she's still out there playing. So I don't think it's an excuse. It might be true that people are a little tired but it's not an excuse and if that's the case that they can't get their legs under them, then maybe we need to, I don't know, give him a little more rest on the off days or sub a little quicker or something because we can't just keep saying that. We said it all week."

For her, it's more about the team's mental lapses - especially coming out flat in the second half. Myisha Hines-Allen then opened up more on what's happening to their offense in those lapses.

"Our first halves look amazing and then we go to shambles in the second half," Hines-Allen said. "We start playing stagnant, we start holding the ball, we don't move it, like the little things in the second half that make a team go on a run."

All these issues can be related. It's a by-product of limited opportunities to create chemistry with the seemingly insurmountable number of injuries that plagued the team early on. That then is perpetuated with the non-injured players logging heavy minutes. 

But if the team has their sights on becoming a championship contender in less than a month, they have to figure it out now. There are 11 games left in the season and they are not in a playoff spot. 

Elena Delle Donne returning - even in a limited capacity - should be a huge boost. But time is running out fast. 

"You don't really get the opportunity to just be like, 'oh, we'll fix it next game. Oh we'll fix it next game, oh we'll fix it next game,' and before you know it the season's over," Atkins said.

"We don't need to worry about nothing else but winning games," Atkins said. "Like, that's the only thing we control is how we play and what we do."