- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

For the past two months, the Washington Mystics held their playoff destiny in their own hands. But like the turnovers they have committed in many losses, the Mystics finally have let even that slip away.

"If you look at the standings, you know that our destiny is not in our own hands," Mystics general manager Melissa McFerrin said.

After Wednesday's 70-64 loss to the Indiana Fever, the Mystics dropped into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings at 8-17. They trail the Charlotte Sting for the East's fourth and final playoff spot by 3-1/2 games.

For Washington to have a legitimate hope of making the playoffs for the second season in a row, the Mystics must win all their remaining games, including tonight's date against the Portland Fire at MCI Center. But the assignment will not be easy, though the Fire are only the sixth-place team in the Western Conference at 11-15.

With sharpshooting Portland rookie Jackie Stiles on the MCI Center floor, Washington's defense sometimes the only positive for coach Tom Maher needs another strong showing to make up for the team's often poor offensive production.

Including Portland, the upcoming teams on the Mystics' schedule makes it nearly impossible to produce a season-ending winning streak.

The toughest of their final opponents include the Cleveland Rockers and New York Liberty, who have clinched playoff spots in the East, and a pair of games against the Miami Sol, who are third in the East.

Even if the Mystics go undefeated down the stretch, they would not be guaranteed a postseason berth. Washington also would need a breakdown by all three of its main rivals the Sting, the Orlando Miracle and the Fever.

"We'll know a lot more three games [down the road], but the fact remains that Charlotte's in the driver's seat," McFerrin said. "As long as they continue to win, they're going to go to the playoffs."

Adding the Miracle and the Fever to the equation makes the playoff picture even more complex. But amid the jumble of numbers, names and what-ifs, one thing is clear: another loss, and the Mystics can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

So what does a team in this dire situation do?

The saying that coaches tell their teams a lot is, "We can't worry about things we can't control," McFerrin said. "We have to go out and we have to give our best effort in our remaining seven games and hope that luck is on our side a little bit. As we all know, this game is not a game of luck. But anytime we can get some luck, if it comes now we'll take it."

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