- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

Fun Street is in flames.
A playoff berth and an Eastern Conference championship appeared to be a lock for the Washington Mystics a few weeks ago. Now, there appears only deep trouble everywhere they turn.
The Mystics (15-13) have lost seven consecutive games, their star player is hobbled by ankle injuries, their No.2 scorer has gone cold, they face the East's top team in back-to-back games, and their playoff chances get shakier each time they step on the court.
The Mystics have four games left three of them on the road and need to win two to make a playoff berth likely. One victory could get them in a muddled race in which the Mystics, Charlotte Sting, Indiana Fever, Miami Sol and Orlando Miracle are competing for three playoff spots. The New York Liberty already have clinched a spot.
Another loss would tie the second-longest losing streak in club history, a mark set by last season's 10-22 squad. The Mystics would tie the longest losing streak in WNBA history by losing all their remaining games.
The Mystics lost 11 straight en route to a 3-27 record in their inaugural season in 1998.
Star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, suffering from two injured ankles, was unavailable to talk about the collapse, and starting center Vicky Bullett declined to talk about this seven-game and perhaps season-ending free fall.
"I can't look at the way this season is going and compare it to last season because in the previous years, this team has been different and I can't go back into the past," said Mystics forward Murriel Page.
The Mystics are threatening a return to their past. They began this season 15-6 but now are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. They need to win at least one more game to guarantee the first non-losing season in franchise history, and even that appears shaky.
The injuries to Holdsclaw have been part of the Mystics' problem. So have the recent struggles of supplementary scorer Stacey Dales-Schuman.
The 6-foot Dales-Schuman, who was named to the All-Star team as a substitute because of the injury to Holdsclaw, has made only seven of her last 30 shot attempts. Dales-Schuman, the third-overall pick in April's draft, has seen her minutes reduced. When the Mystics were winning, Dales-Schuman was getting anywhere from 14 to 20 points a game. In Tuesday's 64-55 loss to the pedestrian Indiana Fever, Dales-Schuman played only nine minutes and was scoreless, going 0-for-2 from the field.
"I want to shoot the ball, I want to contribute, but ," Dales-Schuman said and refused to elaborate.
Lately, Dales-Schuman has been benched in favor of Page, who is not a scorer and has averaged fewer than 10 points per game for her career. With Holdsclaw less than 100 percent, coach Marianne Stanley now is asking Page to be a go-to player, with modest results.
"Her minutes have been reduced, but that's just a result of the grind," Stanley said of Dales-Schuman, the Mystics' second-leading scorer at 10 points per game. "She's seeing a steady diet of athletic competition that she hasn't been used to, and that is a rookie thing and that's something all rookies face."
With Holdsclaw hobbled and Dales-Schuman on the bench, the question is who is going to score. During their seven-game slide, the Mystics have averaged only 60.1 points per game not enough to win.
"Considering the situation, I feel good," Stanley said. "They understand that this has been a disappointing stretch for us. We're all still committed to what we're doing. We just need a little bit of luck and get a break once in awhile get a basket."
Without Holdsclaw, who averages a team-high 20.4 points and 11.3 rebounds, the Mystics have a tough road ahead.
The Mystics play the Eastern Conference-leading Liberty (17-11) in a home-and-home series beginning tonight in New York, and play at Cleveland (10-18) and Charlotte (15-14) to end the season. Tonight, the Liberty have plenty of incentive: They can clinch the Eastern Conference crown with a victory.
"At the beginning of the season, nobody picked us to be where we are now and now everybody has high expectations for us," Page said. "It's unfortunate that we're in the situation that we are now in."

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