- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2011

With the Washington Mystics in a three-game funk, the end of Monday’s practice was coach Trudi Lacey’s way of getting back to basics. Players scattered around the practice court and shot 50 free throws apiece, a small effort to improve the third-worst free throw percentage in the WNBA.

Most players finished their shots and drifted away to continue their individual work, but veteran Kelly Miller had a different mindset; she drained 48 of her 50 attempts and then quietly went on to rebound for two other teammates as they finished theirs.

It was a small gesture, but those three minutes of practice showed what the oldest Mystic on the roster is all about.

Kelly is definitely a bright spot for us,” Lacey said. “She pressures the ball, she’s hitting open shots, and she’s giving us everything that we need at this point.”

On a team that has opened the season by losing four of five games and is struggling to find its way without All-Star Alana Beard, the 32-year-old Miller has been a constant. She’s played a team-high 37.6 minutes per game while providing the cool, calm presence that can only come from a 10-year WNBA veteran.

After averaging just four points per game in her last two seasons with Atlanta and Minnesota, Miller has amped up her offensive production since joining the Mystics. She’s chipping in 12.4 points per game, which is fourth-best on the team, and hitting more than 47 percent of her attempts from beyond the arc - all while playing nearly twice as many minutes as she became accustomed to playing over the last two years.

“I haven’t felt it a lot. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to help the team win,” she said. “I get a little tired but a lot of it’s mental, too - you just get yourself mentally prepared to go that long.”

As the only player on the roster older than 30, Miller has been the offensive spark of a group that is otherwise struggling to win. While Lacey constantly stresses defense, she is beginning to press her players to also take better shots in order to lessen the load defensively.

“We’re getting shots, but it’s the type of shots that we’re taking,” Lacey said. “A bad shot is almost like a turnover, because you’re not able to play transition defense. It’s two parts - we have to take better shots within our offense so that we can get our defense set.”

Shot selection is one of the many problems plaguing the Mystics, who continue to be without Beard. She remains “day to day” after tweaking her ankle in the preseason, leaving the Mystics to continue with their current lineup as they search for their first home win.

Until Beard returns, the Mystics will continue to rely on production in the post from Crystal Langhorne and Nicky Anosike, who have combined for 29.8 points and 17.6 rebounds per game. The backcourt needs to play stronger perimeter defense and improve its decision-making, but luckily for the Mystics, only five games have gone by.

“I think it happens with every team - you kind of get in a rut,” Miller said. “It’s not like we’re not playing hard, we’re just not doing the little things it takes to win games. We have a lot of heart on this team, so I think we’ll be OK.”