- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

The Connecticut Sun took three of four games this season from the Washington Mystics with star forward Chamique Holdsclaw in the lineup. Without Holdsclaw, the resurgent Mystics defeated the Sun in the final game of the season series in late July and perhaps jump-started their run to the WNBA playoffs.

Now, with Holdsclaw through for the season, Washington (17-17) faces the Sun in Game 1 of their best-of-3 WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals series today at MCI Center, and the Mystics like their chances of winning the series.

“I feel really good about this,” said rookie guard Alana Beard, who has averaged 18.6 points in games with Holdsclaw out.

It’s questionable whether the Mystics really are a better team without Holdsclaw, a three-time WNBA All-Star. Washington finished the season winning seven of its last 11 games, but only three of those wins came against playoff teams: Connecticut, Sacramento, and New York.

When Holdsclaw announced Sept.8 that she would miss the rest of the season because of a “minor medical problem,” the team responded by winning four of its final five games and capturing just the third playoff berth in franchise history.

“The chemistry issue was a big factor, and knowing our roles,” guard Stacey Dales-Schuman said of the turnaround. “Now we have a solid starting lineup that we’ve kept for several games. We switched our starting lineup periodically throughout. Now we have some sort of solidity, and that gives us added chemistry.”

First-year coach Michael Adams did a great job keeping his team together during the Holdsclaw situation. On Sept.4, the Mystics were pounded 69-42 by last-place Indiana, dropping their record to 12-16 with six games left. Instead of rolling over like so many previous Washington teams, the team righted itself — making Adams a leading candidate for WNBA Coach of the Year honors after the Mystics improved by eight games over last season’s 9-25 mark.

“This is his first year as a head coach of anything, he lost his star player, we were never above .500 the whole season and we made the playoffs,” power forward Chasity Melvin said. “When we lost Chamique, we as players had to face adversity, but then he had to say, ‘OK, what do I do now with this team?’ because obviously a lot of our stuff was around Chamique.”

Meanwhile, the Sun (18-16) finished first in the Eastern Conference over New York, courtesy of the league’s tie-breaking procedure.

A last-second 69-68 win over the Sun at MCI in July might have been the turning point of the Mystics’ season. It started their 7-4 stretch run and proved the team could win close games.

“We needed that,” Adams said. “We were just starting to play better. I think it helped our confidence that we can beat this team.”

For the Mystics to defeat the Sun again, they will have to defend better beyond the arc. In Connecticut’s three victories over the Mystics, it made a combined 17 of 39 3-pointers (43 percent). In the lone Mystics win, the Sun went three of 15 (20 percent).

“If they get wide open shots, they have pretty good shooters and they’re going to make them,” Adams said.

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