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Sky keep playoff hopes alive with win over Mystics

With Elena Delle Donne back, can Sky make playoff push?

The inconsistency of the Sky's season has given way to illusions.

In the course of a year that has seen the Sky open with a franchise-best 5-1 start, drop 14 of their next 18 and somehow find their way back into the playoff race, it's easy to forget certain things.

For instance, the Sky have been able to use their two best players — forward Elena Delle Donne and center Sylvia Fowles — at the same time just three times this season.

"Really?" Sky coach Pokey Chatman asked following a 76-65 victory over the Mystics. "I didn't even think about that."

That's because Sunday's performance made it easy to remember just how well Delle Donne and Fowles worked together last year, leading the Sky to a 24-10 record and the first playoff appearance in franchise history.

Since missing the first 14 games of the season with a hip injury, Fowles has nine double-doubles, including another 14 points and 11 rebounds Sunday. And in her second consecutive game off the bench following a long illness, Delle Donne made 7 of 12 field goals, notching 21 points in 16 minutes, 23 seconds.

"It's just going to be something I continue to build on," Delle Donne said. "Every time I get out there I just try to play efficient."

With six games left in the season, and sitting a half-game back of the Liberty for the fourth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, the Sky (12-16) played their most free-flowing brand of basketball yet. Chatman went on to reference the ability of Fowles and Delle Donne on the pick-and-roll, and how they helped convert 19 turnovers by the Mystics (13-15) into 15 points.

And, of course, the defensive-minded Chatman would point to the new life Fowles and Delle Donne provided on that end. More than anything, their presence gave the Sky coach a chance to breathe.

"It's a collective sigh," Chatman said. "Finally, things are going in the right direction."

That doesn't mean things get any easier. After sweeping the Liberty in their season series, the Sky hold a tiebreaker for the fourth seed in the East, but any ground lost at this point in the season might not allow for a comeback.

Until last week, a return to the playoffs seemed at least another year away. The Sky sat near the bottom of the league all year. Yet they continue to play around injuries and come up with timely wins — none more so than Thursday's victory over the Liberty. Still, the Sky will need a few more, starting with their two-game road trip to Connecticut and Minnesota this week.

"We had to check ourselves," Fowles said. "We've grown up since the last couple of games."

Bschuster@tribune.com

Twitter @Schustee

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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