- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

For the Washington Mystics, a postseason in the East could be gained with the help of the West.

Because of a pair of early-season wins against Western Conference opponents, the Mystics managed not to sink to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings when they suffered an eight-game losing streak. Now on a three-game winning streak and preparing for its second of three games on the West Coast, Washington (5-9) has a chance to gain a playoff spot if it can keep paddling past its Western foes.

"We want to get as close to .500 as we can before the [All-Star] break," coach Tom Maher said. "If we can do that, we'll be setting ourselves up in good standing for the last half of the season."

A quadruple-overtime 72-69 victory at Seattle on Tuesday brought Washington's non-conference record to 4-2 (.667 percent). Not only is that the most success the Mystics have enjoyed against the West in a season the previous high had been two wins it also is the East's second-best winning percentage against the West behind the New York Liberty's 3-1 (.750) record.

When it comes to comparing the two conferences, at least in the won-lost column, the Western is obviously superior. In non-conference matchups this season, the West holds a 31-18 advantage.

Only the Mystics and the Liberty hold winning records against the West. The Charlotte Sting and Orlando Miracle two of three teams trailing fifth-place Washington by just half a game are winless against Western opponents.

If Washington can pull out a win over such teams as tonight's opponent, the Portland Fire (8-6) who have lost only one of five games against Eastern foes this season the Mystics will get a little boost in the Eastern standings.

Of the Mystics' 19 remaining games, more than one-quarter are against Western teams. That holds the potential for a lot of little boosts which could add up to a big lift in the rankings, considering Washington is just a half-game out of a playoff spot.

While Maher is reluctant to focus on the playoffs yet, especially after the eight-game skid, he understands that in a 32-game season there is not much time to lose and stay in contention.

"I think we need to concentrate on what the actual win-loss record is at this time," he said via phone from Portland. "I think we have to ensure our playoff berth by getting the right number of wins … and then we're not leaving it up to other things."

About the Mystics' current five-day, three-game West Coast swing, which ends with games at Portland and Phoenix, Maher was noncommittal.

"I'm not overly confident," he said. "We've got a real chance of [to win all the games, but] at the same stage I know we could lose them."

Note Maher said Audrey Sauret will make her second-straight start at point guard tonight. "Audrey is playing so well," Maher said. "She's just been a great defender for us." Sauret started in Seattle in place of Helen Luz, who started at point guard in the pair of games before the West Coast swing.

According to Maher, the Mystics' original point guard, Annie Burgess, is lacking some confidence in her shot and is still hurting from a recent ankle sprain.

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