Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Washington Mystics lost their first eight games, saw their coach resign because he disagreed with the direction of the franchise and were in danger of wasting their midseason turnaround with another loss.

So when DeLisha Milton-Jones grabbed the victory-securing rebound against Connecticut on Tuesday, it sparked a wild celebration. Alana Beard, who scored 18 of 28 points in the fourth quarter of a 65-64 victory, skipped off the court with a wide grin, knowing what tonight’s game means:

A victory over New York at Verizon Center puts Washington in the playoffs.

“We are in the door,” said interim coach Tree Rollins, who replaced Richie Adubato four games into the season. “We just have to keep it closed.”

The Mystics overcame an 0-8 start to reach this position and have won five of seven entering tonight. Their victory Tuesday, coupled with New York’s loss to last-place Chicago, allows the Mystics (15-17) to control their fate — at least temporarily.

New York (13-18) would hold the tiebreaker with a victory and has two more games left to the Mystics’ one. But Washington is focused on tonight, when all they need is one win to reach the postseason.

“This game coming up against New York is the deciding factor probably,” said Milton-Jones, who absorbed an elbow to the face in the first half against Connecticut and received three stitches in her lip before returning to start the second half. “We have to have this win. No if, ands or buts about it. It’s a must-win situation.”

Beard has scored 25 and 28 points in the last two games, but the Mystics are relying on other players to step up. Coco Miller (15 points Tuesday) kept Washington in the game early while also playing strong defense on sharpshooter Lindsay Whalen (13 points, six turnovers).

Washington center Nakia Sanford (seven points, eight rebounds) struggled offensively but was able to hold 7-foot-2 center Margo Dydek to four second-half points. The strong defense allowed the Mystics to overcome a 13-point first-half deficit.

And now they are one victory from the playoffs.

“We don’t have to worry about needing other teams to lose right now for us to be in,” Miller said. “We just need to take care of ourselves. It’s a good position to be in.”

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