- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

The Washington Mystics’ season will be defined by its final weekend.

Washington visits Eastern Conference regular-season champion Connecticut tonight, and a victory over the Sun would set up a one-game showdown for a playoff berth tomorrow when Detroit arrives at MCI Center for the regular-season finale.

The Mystics (15-17) are jockeying for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot with the Shock (16-17), who lead Washington by a half-game after defeating Indiana last night. The Mystics must win their final two to finish with a better record and continue their season, since the Shock would win a tiebreaker based on a better conference record.

Washington controls its playoff fate after Tuesday’s unusual results. The Mystics defeated New York 82-69 in overtime as center Chasity Melvin matched a career-high with 30 points. Meanwhile, last-place Charlotte upset the Shock.

“We’re where we want to be,” said Mystics guard Alana Beard, who hopes to shake off her 3-for-18 shooting against the Liberty. “We’re in control of our own destiny. That’s what we wanted. It is all on us.”

The Sun (24-8), who have clinched the Eastern Conference regular-season title, will attempt to complete a four-game season sweep of the Mystics. Connecticut is battling for the WNBA’s best overall record and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs — including the championship series — with West-leading Sacramento.

While Connecticut fights to be the league’s elite, Washington is trying to scrape into the postseason. Mystics coach Richie Adubato predicted at the season’s start the playoff lineup would not be settled until the final days.

“I figured it would come to the end with so much parity in the East,” he said. “I don’t think teams should be playing back-to-back games like we are this late in the season. But that is what we are up against.”

Due to the quirky scheduling, the Shock will arrive in town today and rest tonight while Washington plays on the road. The Mystics fly back tomorrow morning.

Nonetheless, the Mystics are thrilled for the opportunity. Melvin said she likes back-to-back games because it allows players “to just go and play” the second night. The 6-foot-3 center also sees the weekend as a chance to give meaning to a rocky regular season.

“We have had so many ups and downs,” Melvin said of the Mystics, who never have been more than two games above or three games below .500. “We have been inconsistent all year. The playoffs would really validate all we have been through and all the work we have done.”

Notes — The Mystics drew a season-low 6,010 to MCI Center on Tuesday. Overall, the team is averaging 10,156, down 2,459 (18 percent) from last season’s average of 12,615. The dip is the largest in the 13-team WNBA, and overall league attendance is off. New York is second at 10,055. …

Playoff tickets will go on sale after Saturday’s game if the Mystics advance. If Washington reaches the postseason, it would play host to the Sun in the opener of a best-of-3 series on Wednesday. The rest of the series would be on the road.

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