- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Washington Mystics had a bright outlook entering this season. They barely missed the playoffs last year, falling short on a tiebreaker, and were confident the momentum from their play in the second half of 2007 would carry over.

But Washington’s performance over the first half of this season has not played out as expected. The Mystics have been fighting inconsistency, and at 6-11 they are three games out of the fourth and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with the month-long Olympic break three weeks away.

“It’s not where I thought we would be, only having six wins,” coach Tree Rollins said. “I thought we would have double-digit wins by now. We don’t want to be so far behind by the break that we don’t have a shot [at the playoffs].”

Rollins is feeling pressured to get the Mystics’ season turned around now. Though the Mystics play six of their nine games at home this month, Rollins realizes the effect such a long hiatus can have on his team.

“It’s natural for players going into the break to lose a couple games concentration wise, then coming back from the break it’ll take a couple of games concentration wise to get back together,” he said. “That’s four games we can’t afford to lose, so as a staff we’re trying to make them realize that and see the full picture.”

The Mystics’ biggest problems have come on offense. A propensity for turnovers and inconsistent shooting have resulted in a league-worst 70.4 points a game.

Rollins has been frustrated by the Mystics’ ability to go from a fast-breaking, high-scoring machine to a confused, turnover-prone bunch in a matter of minutes. In several of their losses, the Mystics played well for three of the four quarters but doomed themselves with one dismal 10-minute stretch.

“We need to turn it around,” guard Alana Beard said. “We are losing too many games we come in and say we could have won. We’ve lost 11 games, and I would say we gave nine of those games away.”

The Mystics have a proven scorer in Beard, who is averaging 19.5 points a game. Forwards Taj McWilliams-Franklin (12.9) and Monique Currie (12.7) have been reliable as well. But Washington has struggled to find any sort of consistency outside the trio.

Center Nakia Sanford has yet to find the form she displayed last season. Rollins recently moved her out of the starting lineup, hoping that coming off the bench will spark her game. Rookie Crystal Langhorne, the beneficiary of the move, shook off a bad road trip with 17 points Sunday.

“Our big three has got to bring it every night,” Rollins said. “But we have to have all our players playing great games every night. It’s no secret.”

The morale in the Mystics’ locker room after Sunday’s loss was at a low. For the first time this year, defensive breakdowns lost them a game, none more embarrassing than leaving San Antonio Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon alone for a 3-pointer with 3:27 remaining.

“Becky looked at us, and she smiled at us because that’s how open she was,” Rollins said. “We didn’t communicate, we didn’t switch and that kind of cost us the game.”

But despite being disappointed with their play in the first half of the season, the Mystics are not counting themselves out as contenders.

“The race is still really close even with the losses that we’ve had,” Currie said. “We’ve got a lot of fan support that helps us. At home we need to win.”

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