- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2011

If effort, heart and hustle could be measured in the win column, the Washington Mystics just might be 20-5 right now, instead of the reverse.

That’s the belief of first-year coach and general manager Trudi Lacey. “Our team continues to fight and get better,” Lacey said. “We just have to stay positive and keep fighting. Like I’ve said about this team all season, they are a resilient group.”

With nine games left, the focus has begun to shift from watching the win-loss record to gaining experience that will help the team next season. Those lessons, Lacey said, include learning how to play with a lead, understanding the importance of time and score, how to get stops and how not to let a team back into a game.

The Mystics (5-20) are mired in a five-game losing streak and coming off their worst loss of the year, an 83-51 drubbing at the hands of the hands of Tamika Catchings and the first-place Indiana Fever (19-8).

The team is back home Tuesday night, and will face the Los Angeles Sparks (11-15). L.A. has two of the top 15 players in WNBA history in Ticha Penicheiro and Tina Thompson, and Candace Parker, the first player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP the same season (2008).

Parker, who missed 15 games with a torn lateral meniscus in her right knee, returned to the court Aug. 16 and accumulated 15 points and 10 rebounds in the Sparks‘ 84-79 loss to the Atlanta Dream.

Despite a sub-.500 record, the Sparks‘ lineup is one of the toughest matchup challenges in the league. The Mystics will rely on the post presence of Nicky Anosike and DeMya Walker on defense, and on Crystal Langhorne and Matee Ajavon’s scoring to combat Los Angeles’ star power.

Langhorne, the Mystics’ leading scorer (18.1 points per game), will have a tough defensive assignment, guarding either Parker or Thompson.

Parker is such a great player. It will take a total team effort to guard her,” Langhorne said. As for staying positive in the midst of a losing streak, Langhorne called it just another learning experience.

“At this point, we aren’t just looking at our wins and losses,” she said. “The thing we are focused on is the fact that we always played hard and we never gave up. It’s a rough season for us, but we still go out there and play hard.”

The few bright spots in the Mystics’ season have been Langhorne’s consistency, Anosike’s rebounding, and Ajavon breaking out as a scorer and playmaker. Langhorne was named as an All-Star reserve, and Ajavon is a candidate for league’s most improved player.