- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

Washington Mystics coach Marianne Stanley says she has never met Bill Laimbeer, the former Detroit Pistons forward and new coach of the Detroit Shock. For her sake, then, a friendly bit of advice, in case Stanley decides to exchange pleasantries with him before tipoff at today's Mystics-Shock matinee at MCI Center:
Watch out for flying elbows.
Better yet, if you take one, feel free to retaliate.
That might send the perfect message to the rest of the WNBA that the Mystics (14-6) won't be pushed around anymore. So far this season, Washington has not responded well to physical play from opponents, the latest example coming in Saturday's 67-53 loss to New York.
In the first half, the Liberty's aggressive defense produced five blocked shots and held Washington to just 28 percent shooting. The Mystics never recovered and saw their perfect (8-0) home record erased and their lead in the Eastern Conference cut to 2 games.
With the fight for home court in the playoffs getting serious, the last thing Washington wants is a repeat of Saturday. Stanley pledges that the Mystics, who are still without injured forward Chamique Holdsclaw, are capable of being physical when necessary. The test may come today against the Shock (3-16), whose coach's reputation as a physical player once inspired a video game called "Bill Laimbeer Combat Basketball."
"As the season goes on, teams get more and more physical as they try to position themselves for the playoffs," Stanley said. "New York is a veteran team that knows how to play physically and aggressively and they used that tactic well. We know how to play physically, too. We just need to step it up a little bit."
Added Mystics forward Murriel Page: "The New York game opened up a lot of our eyes. All the stuff that Marianne has been telling us each day in practice would hurt us in the long run, showed in that game. Sometimes you need one game to give you a wakeup call, and the New York game was definitely that."
Detroit is coming off victories in its last two games before the All-Star break, including a 66-63 victory against the irksome Liberty. After starting the year 0-10, the Shock has gone 3-6 since the firing of coach Greg Williams.
For his part, Laimbeer has downplayed comparisons between the Shock and his old "bad boy" Pistons. "We are not a team that is going to go out there and be an overly physical ball club and try to mug people," he said upon his hiring last month.
Still, the coach's documented aggressiveness has seemed to rub off on the team. The difference is, the Shock uses those powers for good rather than evil. Over its last 10 games, Detroit is the league's third best rebounding team, averaging 34.6. That's more than three better than its season average.
The good news for the Mystics is that today's game is likely their last without Holdsclaw, who has missed six games with a sprained left ankle. Holdsclaw took part in light practices the last week, including yesterday morning's session, and is expected to return Saturday against Seattle. The Mystics are 5-3 during her absence.
Notes At the end of their usual two-hour practice yesterday morning, the Mystics held an one-hour extra session that was open to season ticket-holders. Stanley explained each of the team's drills, including a run-through of a fastbreak offense that has some new features.
The purpose of the adjustments, Stanley said, is to generate more early transition opportunities for the Mystics, who have posted their two lowest scoring totals of the season in their last four games.
The Mystics signed 6-foot-3 center Katryna Gaither, who will be playing for her fifth WNBA team in three years and third this season. She was waived by Cleveland in May, then played one game with Los Angeles before being released June21.

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