- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In the aftermath of Sunday’s 22-point loss, the Washington Mystics‘ locker room filled with talk of disappointment and missed opportunity.

Gone was the swagger that characterized their first three games under interim coach Jessie Kenlaw. Gone too was the chance to pull even with the fourth-place Indiana Fever, who made matters worse by beating Phoenix on Sunday night.

The Mystics now sit two games out of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot with eight games remaining when play resumes Aug. 29 after the Olympic break. With so much time off, there’s an easy way for the Mystics to spend their time preparing for the season’s stretch run.

“Working out, man, that’s all I do,” guard Alana Beard said. “Get my shot back, get out of the slump and make something happen.”

She won’t be alone. Kenlaw has waited for the month break since her July 19 promotion. She envisions the Mystics as a running team, a style they abandoned under former coach Tree Rollins.

During the break, Kenlaw will map out her new system. When the Mystics reorganize for team practices, Kenlaw said she will drill her new mind-set into them, starting with fundamentals.

“We’re gonna get in the gym and work on our defensive philosophy - our team defense, our one-on-one defense,” she said. “We have to improve our defensive intensity for 40 minutes, and we aren’t there yet.”

The players have no delusions about their upcoming workload. They have improved under Kenlaw by making one minor adjustment at a time. But after Sunday’s setback against the Connecticut Sun, the players know a major overhaul is coming.

“It was kinda hard for her to take over in the position that she did and come in and have us do the things that she wants us to do,” Beard said. “It’s a mind-set, it’s a mentality that has to change.”

Inconsistency on offense has plagued the Mystics, who average a league-worst 69.3 points. They also have not proved they can be efficient in a halfcourt offense, so Kenlaw will emphasize the fast break.

She said the key to correcting the team’s offensive woes starts on defense.

“If we play good defense, we have easy baskets,” she said. “But if we don’t have easy baskets, we don’t have the discipline to get our space and run our sets and look for our various options.”

Kenlaw hasn’t given up hope on making the playoffs. She said until the Mystics are mathematically eliminated, they will continue to work to earn the franchise’s fifth playoff berth.

To do that, Washington must improve over the next month.

“I have to be patient with them,” Kenlaw said. “Sometimes I forget that because I’m stepping in and expecting them to change some things that they might need more time with.”

“But still, my expectations are very high. Now I’ll have more time. Some of it is repetition. We get them in the gym, we drill them on some things we want them to do and at least we’ll be better. We might not be where we want to be, but we’ll be better.”

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