- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2001

T.O.: Two little letters, one big problem for the Washington Mystics.

The Mystics, now only the second-worst team in the WNBA thanks to a recent loss by the Detroit Shock, have dug themselves into an ever-deepening hole this season largely because of turnovers.

Washington (5-13) gives it away more than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and as a result comes up with the basketball equivalent of coal in its stocking.

"A lot of times it's like we're just congested on the floor," said Mystics forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who has studied her team's play from the bench the last two games while nursing a stress reaction in her right foot. "Congestion equals confusion, and you know for this team it seems like confusion equals turnovers.

"It's like that free throw area we're so congested and we start dribbling around in circles and the next thing you know, we get confused and it's a turnover."

Coming into tonight's game in Indianapolis against the Indiana Fever (6-14), the Mystics are losing the battle of the bobbled ball to their opponents 284-242.

But it's not exactly the turnovers that kill the Mystics; it's what their opponents do afterward that puts Washington away.

The Mystics have given up a whopping 291 points off turnovers this season, while getting back only 205 off their opponents' mistakes.

In the past four games all losses the difference has been glaring. Despite committing only 13 more turnovers than their opponents, the Mystics have conceded a difference of 41 points off those giveaways.

That's a big chunk of the combined 49 points Washington has lost by during the skid.

While this scoring difference might be expected from the team tied for the league's worst field-goal percentage (.383), it's something that Mystics coach Tom Maher would like to see changed as Washington continues to linger just two games out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the East.

Maher's target is the first five minutes of each half, when he sees his team continually come out unfocused and proceed to throw the ball away with much impact on the final result.

More than one-third of the Mystics' turnovers during the losing streak have come at the start of the game or just out of halftime.

"Other than our starts, we've played a pretty good game," Maher said.

Attempting to put a handle on the problem, Maher has decided to change to a three-guard set to start against the Fever, replacing forward Tonya Washington with guard Helen Luz.

"Helen's playing really well," said Annie Burgess, who will start at point guard for Washington.

The move will boost the age on the floor Luz is 29, Washington 23 and hopefully break the chain of early turnovers for the Mystics, or at least lessen the points off turnovers that Washington concedes.

"Even though Helen isn't the quickest player, she's pretty crafty," Maher said. "She's been probably, other than [guard] Audrey [Sauret], our next-best defender on the perimeter. So we don't think we're going to get hurt too much defensively."

Meanwhile, Holdsclaw, who is expected to come off the injured list before Sunday's home game against Indiana, practiced for the first time Wednesday and traveled to Indianapolis with the team to scout the Fever.

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