- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

Against the WNBA team that most closely resembles the Bad Boys, the Washington Mystics are bracing for battle.
The Mystics open play in their first-ever Eastern Conference finals tonight at MCI Center against the New York Liberty, the three-time conference champs and the team that knocked Washington out of its only previous playoff appearance in 2000. The best-of-3 series shifts to Madison Square Garden for Game 2 on Saturday and Game 3 on Sunday, if necessary.
While the Liberty don't quite boast the brawn that the pugilistic-minded Detroit Pistons teams of the late 1980s did, they aren't afraid to play a physical brand of basketball.
"Not every foul is going to be called, and that's the norm for playoff basketball," Mystics coach Marianne Stanley said. " I just think they're a physical team that tries to be rough with everybody."
Tuesday night, when New York stormed back to defeat the Indiana Fever and win the conference semifinal in three games, Fever star rookie Tamika Catchings sustained a lower back contusion and a bruised hand after surviving 33 minutes of action. Catchings hit two 3-pointers in the first 4 minutes but finished with just 12 points.
"You have to do things to keep [Catchings] away from the ball," said Fever coach Nell Fortner after the game. "Those things are not always called, and those things become an ugly situation. She was hurt two times in the game, and that's not right."
When the Mystics came in for practice yesterday, teammates joked with Chamique Holdsclaw, asking her if she saw what happened to Catchings and if the Liberty would target her next. Forwards Murriel Page and Asjha Jones quickly assured other players that they would be looking out for Holdsclaw.
"It won't be me going out of the game," Holdsclaw said. "We're not going to stand for that. We're going to establish that from Game1. I think our team we're not the strongest but we have a lot of heart. They're not going to be beating up on me. I know I have 11 other teammates that have my back."
The Mystics enter the series with rejuvenated confidence after sweeping the Charlotte Sting in the conference semifinals. They quashed memories of their 2-9 slide to end the regular season and verified their belief in the postseason as a "clean slate" of sorts, a fresh start. They also quelled any doubts that they could win with limited playoff experience after Charlotte point guard Dawn Staley questioned them.
Still, it's undeniable that the Liberty hold a bit of an edge in playoff experience. The core of the team Teresa Weatherspoon, Tamika Whitmore, Vickie Johnson and Crystal Robinson has been together since 1999, when New York reached the first of its two WNBA finals.
"I know that they're a very experienced team," guard Coco Miller said, "but we're a team that plays with a lot of energy on the floor, and we need to approach the game that way."
Stanley admitting she was a bit sleep deprived yesterday spared little in preparing for the series. She traveled to New York for Games 2 and 3 of the Liberty-Fever series in between breaking down film, running practices and other preparations. In yesterday's practice, getting the players prepared for the number of different defenses the Liberty are going to throw at them particularly Holdsclaw was a focus.
The Mystics' alternative to a grudge match in the half court is executing their transition game that carried them to their hot start to the season. The Liberty actually outran the Fever in recovering from an early 17-2 deficit, but Stanley said the Mystics will be poised to snuff New York's transition while looking to start their own. As Holdsclaw said, "We have to take advantage of our quickness and get up and down the floor. If they can't catch you, they can't touch you."
The Mystics are quite familiar with the Liberty the teams have faced each other three times this season. The Mystics' loss July 13 started a string of eight losses in nine games, a slide that was broken only by their win in New York Aug. 8. Holdsclaw missed the teams' first meeting and played in the last two.
Though they have won in New York, the Mystics want to start the series as they did against Charlotte with a victory at home. Then they could head to Gotham with two chances to win one game and reach the goal they set on the first day of training camp: to become Eastern Conference champions.
"When you play for something, you want to do it against the best," Holdsclaw said. "I know they're going to give us their best shot, and if you take the best shot from the best and survive, it makes you stronger."

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