- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2002

The Washington Mystics officially can start to panic.
With five games left in the season and only two at home, the Mystics now must worry about something that seemed inconceivable just a few weeks ago: missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
The team's franchise record 12-2 start has given way to free fall. The Mystics (15-12) have lost six consecutive games and have fallen out of first place in the WNBA's Eastern Conference a spot they held for most of the season.
"We're experiencing a lack of focus and too easily distracted," coach Marianne Stanley said. "Rebounding and turnovers have cost us four ball games. We've beaten ourselves four out of the last six."
To add more doubt to the situation, star forward Chamique Holdsclaw might not play in tonight's crucial game against the Indiana Fever (12-15) at MCI Center. Holdsclaw, the Mystics' leading scorer (21 points) and rebounder (11.5), sat out of the Mystics' ugly 55-50 loss at the Miami Sol on Sunday because of a sprained right ankle. She will be a game-time decision against the Fever.
Turnovers have been the culprit behind the Mystics' collapse. During the early part of the season, the Mystics played sound basketball and committed few turnovers under 10 per game. Now, the team is averaging 14.6 miscues per game, more than their opponents (14.0).
"We're troubling me right now," Stanley said. "We must win three of our last five to expect to make the playoffs without getting any outside help."
The second-place Mystics lead the Orlando Miracle (14-14) and Charlotte Sting (14-14) by 1 games. Three of the Mystics' next five games are on the road, including a season-ending contest at Charlotte and a set of back-to-back games against the first-place New York Liberty. The top four from each conference qualify for the playoffs.
The Mystics' task is made that much harder by not having Holdsclaw in the lineup consistently an absence Stanley blames on Portland Fire rookie DeMya Walker.
In two games this season against the Fire both losses Holdsclaw was injured after contact with Walker. On June 28, Holdsclaw got tangled up with Walker fighting for a loose ball. Walker fell awkwardly on Holdsclaw's left leg, and the resulting sprained left ankle forced Holdsclaw to miss nine games.
In Friday's 67-65 loss to the Fire, Holdsclaw went up for a layup with two minutes left and came down on Walker's foot and turned her right ankle. If a player is airborne, a defender must allow room for the player to land on the court. Walker slid underneath Holdsclaw in an attempt to draw a charge.
"DeMya Walker is an out-of-control player," Stanley said. "In a summer league game in Boston, she broke her own jaw in a couple of places when she ran head on into Murriel Page's knee. She plays out-of-control all the time. That still doesn't explain why we're turning the ball over with unforced errors and missing five free throws in the last two minutes."
That and the late-season collapse perhaps can be explained by the Mystics' relative lack of experience. With so many new players on the Washington roster, opposing teams didn't have a library of game film on the Mystics and were less prepared earlier in the season. Now with the season hitting the stretch, the Mystics are not surprising anyone.
Despite winning a franchise-best 15 games already this season, the Mystics still must win one more game to secure the first non-losing season in franchise history. The way the team has played recently, it is possible the Mystics won't win another game.
On paper, the Mystics look to be 15 points better than the Fever. If the Mystics don't win tonight, there is big trouble in Chinatown. Apparently, this meltdown hasn't fazed the Mystics' front office, because at halftime of tonight's game, playoff tickets will go on sale for the first round of the WNBA playoffs.
"The express got derailed," Stanley said. "We were rolling pretty smoothly there. Early on, we were in great shape. We're not clicking on all cylinders and we seem to be second-guessing ourselves. We got off to a great start now the gap is closing. At this point, nothing is guaranteed."

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