- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

This time, Chamique Holdsclaw’s return to the nation’s capital wasn’t a pleasant one.

Alana Beard and DeLisha Milton Jones combined to score 47 points to lead the Washington Mystics to a 84-74 victory over Holdsclaw and the Los Angeles Sparks before 8,894 last night at Verizon Center.

Beard finished with 29 points, just one point shy of her career high. Milton-Jones added 18 points. The game was undecided with 4:54 left, but the Mystics looked playoff ready as they closed the game with a 17-4 run, offsetting six Sparks players in double figures.

“It’s a huge defining moment for this team,” Beard said about beating the Sparks (23-7), the WNBA’s top team this season. “It just proves that now we’re learning how to close out games. Whereas in the past we’ve hung with teams up until the fourth quarter and we started making mistakes and not executing, but we did everything right in this game.”

On Sunday, Washington (16-13) clinched a playoff berth in the weak Eastern Conference. The three teams below the Mystics in the standings — Charlotte, New York and Chicago — are at least 12 games under .500. As a result, last night’s game — against a team still trying to clinch homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs — could be seen as a barometer.

“The L.A. team is packed. They’ve got scorers from every angle,” Milton-Jones said.

One of those is Holdsclaw, though she wasn’t much of a factor last night in her second appearance at Verizon Center since the Mystics traded her two seasons ago for forward Milton-Jones and a first-round draft pick. Holdsclaw, whom the Mystics selected first overall in the 1999 WNBA Draft, finished with 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting.

Holdsclaw, who missed the Sparks’ first six games for personal reasons, again came off the bench last night. Los Angeles coach Joe Bryant has been going with a two-center package of All-Star Lisa Leslie and second-year player Jessica Moore. It seems to have been the right move; Holdsclaw has averaged 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds a game as a reserve, which ranks her among the league’s top 20 in both categories.

When the Sparks’ reserves were announced, Holdsclaw received a warm reception from the Mystics’ fans, who clearly haven’t forgotten the six seasons she played in Washington.

It was Holdsclaw’s second trip back to the nation’s capital. Holdsclaw scored a game-high 27 points in an 84-75 Sparks victory May 26, 2005.

The Mystics took a 40-38 lead into their locker room at halftime in part because of the job they did against Leslie. Leslie, a leading MVP candidate, scored just four points in the half because of foul trouble. She finished with 10 points and forced many shots during the pivotal fourth quarter.

“In my opinion, in the fourth quarter, them going to Lisa and trying to force this issue, it was only to our benefit,” Milton-Jones said.

Note — Beard was named to the U.S. national team for the world championships Sept. 12-23 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Beard joins Milton-Jones on Team USA’s roster. In the spring, Beard was a fixture on the U.S. team, starting eight of the 11 exhibitions and averaging 6.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.3 steals a game.

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