- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

In a volatile season that has consisted of more downs than ups and wasted chance after fumbled opportunity, the Washington Mystics' season has been reduced to one night.

The scenario is simple: if the Mystics (13-18) defeat second-place Cleveland tonight at MCI Center, they're in the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's fourth seed. Washington also will earn its first postseason berth if Detroit, tied with the Mystics for fourth place, loses to New York.

If any other combination occurs, the Mystics are faced with a demoralizing end to a troubling season, one that brimmed with playoff promise throughout its early stages.

"You don't know who's going to show up, what's going to show up," Vicky Bullett said. "It's not good. We haven't had a real good season whatsoever."

The Mystics have indeed done practically everything within their power to stay out of the playoffs. Needing one victory in the last three games to clinch a berth, they have lost to two division foes by a combined 25 points. They have stumbled in their last eight games, losing six, mostly because they show no consistency and have not executed their offense with any regularity.

The Mystics' recent poor performance has coincided with the injury to point guard Andrea Nagy. Coach Darrell Walker lamented after Monday's loss at Orlando that he needed a player to keep the Mystics in their offense, and Nagy did exactly that when she ran the team. Although Nagy's groin strain has improved, the point guard will sit out her ninth consecutive game tonight.

"[Nagy] keeps us organized. And since she's been out, we haven't really been organized," Bullett said. "We're unbalanced just because of [her absence]."

Said center Murriel Page, who has been held scoreless in two games against Cleveland this season: "If we had Nagy, of course that would be a plus. But I'm not going to say that the loss of Nagy is the reason why we're losing."

Tonight's opponent promises to give the Mystics a handful, although the Rockers (17-14) are playing their second straight road game after losing at New York last night. Cleveland, which had the worst record in the WNBA last season, cannot finish in first place.

The Mystics have beaten Cleveland just twice in 10 games; the Rockers have defeated the Mystics handily twice (72-49, 77-60) this season, though both were played at Gund Arena.

"You have to have a sense of pride that you're not going to keep getting beat like that," Walker said.

Walker conducted an hour-long practice yesterday afternoon which concluded with a team-wide shooting competition. Walker said part of his team's offensive ineptitude was getting unlucky bounces on their shots, and focused on shooting throughout the practice.

"We had five or six [shots] go in the rim and come out of the rim, so it's not like we weren't getting good looks," Walker said.

What isn't debatable is how much the Mystics have underachieved this season. After finishing 12-20 last season, they have won just one more game this season despite adding Bullett, Tausha Mills and Keisha Anderson. The homecourt advantage provided by the league's highest attendance has seemingly had no benefit. They'll need every advantage tonight.

"[Tonight], we have to come out with a sense of urgency," Walker said. "You can't let someone else control your destiny. You have to come out and control it yourself."

Notes Mills was fined $500 by the WNBA for her actions in Sunday's loss at Cleveland. She was ejected after committing a flagrant foul and returned to the court after the ejection… . Approximately 3,000 tickets remain for tonight's game, which is fan appreciation night. Former U.S. Women's Olympic team coach Kay Yow will participate in a halftime ceremony. Six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee was to be honored at halftime as well but canceled because of a family matter.

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