Monday, July 2, 2007

Tree Rollins knew his team was tired.

The Washington Mystics were playing their sixth game in a dozen days, including four on the road, and had spent much of their first game back at Verizon Center on Friday trying to overcome a double-digit deficit against Detroit.

Yesterday’s 69-62 home loss to the Indiana Fever, in which the Mystics tried to overcome another early double-digit deficit, probably didn’t help the team’s fatigue.

And tomorrow, they play again.

“Unfortunately we have to go back to work,” Rollins told his team in the locker room.

The Mystics’ schedule might be one of the more grueling in the WNBA. They played four games in seven days on the road — at Phoenix, at Houston, at Chicago, at Connecticut — and will play their third in five days at home tomorrow against San Antonio.

Yesterday, that fatigue showed.

There was no victory-inducing comeback effort similar to a 65-64 win over Detroit on Friday, when the Mystics trailed 40-24 at halftime. Indiana used a 13-0 first-quarter run to take a 41-29 advantage at the break, but Washington struggled to cut into the lead.

With a team that needs as much energy as possible, clawing from behind isn’t the best idea.

“I don’t understand why it happens,” said guard Alana Beard, who had a team-high 16 points. “We make our job that much harder. We create 10-, 15-point deficits for ourselves. Somehow we’ve been able to come out of it. But we can’t always depend on it.”

Given the track records of the Fever and Mystics, a Washington rally wasn’t out of the question. The Mystics had won four of five games, including Friday’s comeback, while Indiana had lost three of five, including a loss to Connecticut on Friday in which the Fever blew a 15-point lead and committed 20 turnovers.

But Washington couldn’t execute when it counted. Nikki Blue’s layup with 40.9 seconds left reduced Indiana’s lead to 65-60. Blue was fouled on the shot by Fever center Tammy Sutton-Brown, but she missed the free throw. DeLisha Milton-Jones grabbed the rebound and drew a foul to make it 65-62 with 38.7 seconds remaining.

But the Mystics didn’t score after that.

Nakia Sanford finished with 15 points, and Milton-Jones had 10.

Nikki Teasley, meanwhile, only scored two points and was benched for all but 14 minutes.

“I wasn’t contributing that much,” Teasley said. “You can’t play a great game every game. I think it was a great decision by the coach because we needed some new energy and enthusiasm.”

The team’s fatigue was evident in the box score. The Mystics shot 38.3 percent, including just 15.8 percent from 3-point range.

In addition, Sanford (five), Monique Currie (four) and Tamara James (four) found themselves in foul trouble struggling to guard Fever forward Tamika Catchings (14 points). Indiana’s Tan White (14) and Tamika Whitmore (12) also reached double figures.

The tough schedule leaves Rollins trying to find ways to maximize his team’s energy. The Mystics are scheduled to practice at 11 a.m. today, an hour later than normal, and Rollins plans to work on defeating zone defenses, which Indiana used effectively yesterday.

After all, making shots early will help the Mystics avoid having to overcome energy-draining deficits.

Milton-Jones doesn’t plan to go back to the gym for extra shots, fearful that overplaying might lead to more fatigue.

“If you have too much basketball on your mind, things don’t get better,” Milton-Jones said. “That can free your spirit. You come back hungry, revived and refreshed to come back the next day.”

Washington plays four more games before the All-Star break July 15.

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