- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Washington Mystics are sure they are a playoff caliber team. They’ve said it all year, they believe it and sometimes they even play like it.

Washington has the talent to play with any team in the league - wins over the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks attest to that. But with seven games remaining in the regular season, the Mystics (13-14) find themselves tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday’s game at Seattle (15-11).

Washington’s inconsistencies can be traced to the mental breakdowns in executing game plans, sticking to strategy and making the proper adjustments as games progress.

The Mystics’ losses typically feature two telltale signs: a high amount of turnovers and too many fouls, resulting in easy points for the opposition. Both flaws are within Washington’s power to control, and avoiding such mental errors will be far more important than any other adjustments made the rest of the season.

“We’re working together and really trying to stay focused,” forward Crystal Langhorne said. “We know that every game is going to count a lot, and we just want to take advantage of every chance we have.”

Washington’s past two games highlight the dual nature of its season so far. In beating Western Conference-leading Phoenix by 10 on Friday, the Mystics held the high-powered Mercury below their season scoring average on their homecourt. They played with focus and executed their game plan, feeding Langhorne in the post early and slowing down the game late.

But the following night against the Sacramento Monarchs, the Mystics were flat. Their shots weren’t falling early, and by not adhering to their defensive game plan, they let Sacramento control the game from the opening tip and offered little resistance in the process.

Coach Julie Plank downplayed scheduling as a factor in Washington’s hangover in Sacramento.

“I don’t know about that,” she said. “I think it was an emotional win for us in Phoenix, but Sacramento is a good team.”

After the 22-point blowout, forward Monique Currie marveled, “Wow, I don’t think we did some of the things we worked on.”

Some of that can be attributed to the fact that the Mystics are a young team. But they are also a group of players used to winning and who expect to win even though as a group they are relatively unproven as professionals. General manager Angela Taylor purposely filled the roster with players who came from thriving college programs so the Mystics would have the mindset to get back to the playoffs.

At this point, Washington can ill-afford many more mental lapses.

“We definitely look at the standings,” Langhorne said. “We keep looking at who’s winning and who’s getting hot. We want to make the playoffs, and it’s important to know where we’re at.”

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