- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2003

With the Washington Mystics’ season quickly slipping away, star forward Chamique Holdsclaw has to play — regardless of her physical condition.

The 2-8 Mystics are last in the WNBA’s Eastern Conference and riding a five-game losing streak, so Holdsclaw will dress for today’s game against the Minnesota Lynx (6-6) at MCI Center.

Holdsclaw, who is the Mystics’ leading scorer (18.6) and the WNBA’s leading rebounder (14.8), won’t start but is expected to play significant minutes despite nursing a strained right hamstring.

The team’s star practiced yesterday for the first time in a week after sitting out the Mystics’ last game, a 65-63 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday. She will wear a leg sleeve to keep her hamstring warm and compressed.

“I feel better than I did when I hurt myself the first time,” Holdsclaw said. “We’re at the bottom now, [so] I’ll go out there and do what I can.”

The 6-foot-2 Holdsclaw, a four-time WNBA All-Star, gives the Mystics their best chance at winning. However, the Mystics have gone 1-4 in games with her in the starting lineup and 1-4 in games with Holdsclaw sidelined.

Holdsclaw was initially placed on the injured list June4 and missed four games. Activated June18, she played two games — both losses — and reaggravated a different part of her right hamstring June20 against the Cleveland Rockers.

The Mystics don’t intend to place Holdsclaw back on the injured list, which would sideline her for a minimum of three games.

“She can play some,” coach Marianne Stanley said. “When she had her re-injury, she was able to play. She’s not unable to play totally — it’s just a matter of making sure you don’t aggravate something that’s existing. It’s one of those difficult things. How hard can she push? How hard can she play to play at a level that is competitive enough but at the same time not cause more of a problem?”

With Holdsclaw coming off the bench, Stanley plans to start the same lineup she did against the Sun, when the Mystics arguably played their best first half of the season. In the first 20 minutes, the Mystics took a 40-33 lead, outrebounded the Sun 22-15, shot 50 percent (four of eight) from behind the 3-point arc, handed out 13 assists, scored in the paint (18 points) and kept their turnovers (seven) relatively low.

Murriel Page will start at small forward, Asjha Jones at power forward, rookie Aiysha Smith at center, Coco Miller at shooting guard and Annie Burgess at the point.

“Going into this game, we’re feeling like we can stick with the same lineup,” Stanley said. “For us, we just want to put out a lineup that can start the game well, can rebound, defend, and it worked well the last time. So, we’re going to stick with what works.”

Given the Mystics’ poor start — tied for the second-worst start after 10 games in franchise history — Holdsclaw said she is hearing rumors that the Mystics are wracked with dissension. No one in the organization, or in the league for that matter, expected Washington to stumble out of the gate.

Last season the Mystics reached the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the New York Liberty in three games. In the preseason, many predicted Washington would win the East with everybody returning except center Vicky Bullett, who retired before training camp.

“My friends around the league are saying, ‘What’s going on with Washington? Is it dissension?’” Holdsclaw said. “No, it’s not dissension. We all get along, we all hang out together. We have great chemistry. … We’re trying to figure it out just as much as everybody else is trying to figure out why we’re not winning.”

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