- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

The Washington Mystics claim they really don't care which team they face in the WNBA Eastern Conference finals, but at the same time they want to have the first game at home. That means, of course, that deep down the Mystics want a shot at the first-place New York Liberty.

"It's no secret; there's a rivalry between us and New York," said Mystics forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who grew up in Queens. "I would love the opportunity to play them again and get another shot at it and then go up there and possibly win it in my hometown."

The Mystics (19-15) do know this much: They will play Thursday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Who and where the Mystics play will be determined tonight when the Indiana Fever and Liberty finish their best-of-3 Eastern Conference semifinal.

If Indiana wins, the third-seeded Mystics would have home-court advantage in a best-of-3 series against the fourth-seeded Fever. Game 1 would be at Indiana's Conseco Fieldhouse on Thursday, with Game 2 set for MCI Center on Saturday. If necessary, Game 3 would be played at MCI Center on Sunday.

If New York wins, the top-seeded Liberty would have homecourt advantage, and Game 1 would be played at MCI Center. New York would play host to Game 2 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday and Game 3 on Sunday if necessary.

"The atmosphere in New York is really great for the playoffs," said Mystics shooting guard Coco Miller, who was named the WNBA's most improved player this season. "I think having two teams like us and New York with both excellent crowds would be tremendous."

In terms of a matchup, the Mystics probably would rather play the Fever than the veteran-laden Liberty. The Fever don't have an exceptionally strong low-post presence with undersized center Olympia Scott-Richardson (9.4 points a game) or backup Kelly Schumacher. Since the Mystics use Vicky Bullett, a natural power forward, as their center, they probably would break even with the Fever in the paint.

The Liberty, however, thrive on their low-post game. Center Tari Phillips and power forward Tamika Whitmore were their top two scorers this season. Phillips, a 6-foot-1 banger with a soft mid-range shot, finished with 14.1 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, while Whitmore, a 6-2 wide body, contributed 12.7 points.

"We've beaten New York before, and they have to match up against us, too, and I don't think anyone can guard Chamique," Mystics point guard Annie Burgess said.

Head-to-head, both the Fever and the Liberty won two of three games against the Mystics this season. But the same could be said about the Charlotte Sting, who the Mystics swept in the semifinals.

"I know the deal is whoever earns it is going to be there," said Mystics coach Marianne Stanley, the WNBA's coach of the year. "It's something you can't control, so why spend energy thinking about it? There's a little bit more travel involved going to Indiana. [The Fever are] a lot like us: They like the transition game. They like to get up and down the floor. I don't know which one of the matchups [is] better. We're familiar with both of them. It's not like there is going to be some big surprises."

Sweeping the Sting gave the Mystics time to rest and heal any nagging injuries. Winning the first game of that series at home put all the pressure on the Sting to beat the Mystics twice in Charlotte which didn't happen. The Mystics would like to approach the next series in the same manner if they face the Liberty: win Game 1 at home and force New York to win two games in a row at Madison Square Garden, especially since the Mystics have gone 9-8 on the road this season, including the playoffs.

"It's a real bonus, the fact that you're able to sweep," Stanley said. "It's difficult to sweep anytime, anyway. One of the benefits was to get two days extra, and that was really huge for us. We didn't discuss it a whole lot, but it was something we said, 'Hey, one of the great things if we close this thing out is you get a couple more days.' That just adds more incentive to getting it done."

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