- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

The last-place Washington Mystics have a daunting task ahead if they are to recover from this season’s disastrous start and make the WNBA playoffs.

In the past, a .500 record has been the minimum needed for a team to qualify for the playoffs. That means the 2-9 Mystics would need to win 15 of their final 23 games just to finish the season at 17-17. But so far this season, the Mystics have shown little to suggest they are postseason material after reaching the Eastern Conference finals a year ago, and the schedule is not in their favor.

Beginning tonight at Sacramento (6-8), the Mystics embark on a three-game Western road trip — the first of two this season. They play Seattle (8-6) tomorrow night.

The Mystics play 11 of their final 23 games at home, where they are just 1-5. Against Eastern Conference foes, the Mystics are 1-7, seriously damaging any playoff tie-breaking scenarios. Washington is 1-4 on the road.



The Mystics’ 2-9 start ties the second-worst in franchise history. In 1998, the Mystics opened the season 1-10 and finished 3-27 — the worst record in WNBA history. The Mystics opened 2-9 two years ago and finished 10-22.

Losers of six straight and nine of their past 10, the Mystics hope this extended road trip can bring the team together before it’s too late, if it isn’t already.

“At this point, anything that helps us play better as a team we’re looking for because I don’t think we’re that far off the mark,” Mystics coach Marianne Stanley said. “My point to our team is, ‘Look, I know we are 2-9, but .500 ball gets you second place in the West. You eliminate Los Angeles (12-3), you eliminate Detroit (8-2), and guess what, we’ve got a knockdown, dragout dogfight which I’ve been saying since day one. It’s survival of the fittest. We’ve got to get into that fray.’”

If the Mystics are to play themselves into contention, they will have to do it with their best player — forward Chamique Holdsclaw — hurting. Holdsclaw has missed six games with a strained right hamstring, including the last two. The five-time All-Star might not play tonight against the Monarchs as a precaution, but probably will play tomorrow night against the Storm and Saturday in Houston.

“The doctor said, ‘[Chamique], we’ll see how it reacts,’ but definitely Thursday and Saturday,” Holdsclaw said when asked if a five-hour flight will affect her hamstring and her playing status.

In an attempt to protect her hamstring and give the Mystics a little more size on the perimeter, Holdsclaw said she is switching from her customary power forward position to small forward. Holdsclaw insists her position change won’t take away from her accomplished rebounding.

“We need some size,” Holdsclaw said. “When I played the three, I averaged eight or nine boards a game. I’m still going to crash the same, but it’s to help our team. I’ll be able to create from the outside. It gives us a chance to put another big player on the court.”

Heading into the All-Star break, the Mystics are going to run into a succession of the best centers in the WNBA. The next five games will see the Mystics face Monarchs 6-foot-3 center Yolanda Griffith (15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds), Seattle’s 6-5 Lauren Jackson (19.3, 7.8), Houston’s 6-2 Tina Thompson (18.7, 6.2), Charlotte’s 6-4 Tammy Sutton-Brown (9.1, 6.4), and Los Angeles’ 6-5 Lisa Leslie (18.2, 9.8).

Jackson is the league’s leading scorer, Thompson is second, Leslie is third, and Griffith is eighth. The undersized Mystics will have their hands full trying to contain the opposition’s big players.

Expect 6-4 reserve center Nakia Sanford, who has a tendency to foul quickly, to play extended minutes in the upcoming games to give the Mystics some sort of defensive presence.

“[Sanford is] going to play minutes, there is no question about it,” Stanley said. “She’ll be counted upon to defend in the post and score in the post. She’s by no means certainly the only person we’re going to expect things from, but she factors in there definitely, that’s why we have her here.”

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