- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

Alana Beard faces a dilemma this weekend.

As a starter for the Eastern Conference in Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game, Beard has an opportunity to showcase herself and represent her team in front of a national audience. But the Washington Mystics are in a tight playoff race - and they play Sunday afternoon.

“They won’t keep me in there for a while. I’ll just air ball a couple of balls, make a few turnovers and I’m sure [Eastern Conference coach] Lin Dunn is going to take me out because the East wants to win,” Beard said jokingly. “I’m gonna get in there, and I’m gonna do my best. Every time I step out on the court, I’m there to play.”

Averaging 17.4 points and 2.7 steals, the swingman has done her part on both ends of the court. She has put up similar numbers before, but this is the first year she has been voted a starter in the All-Star Game.

“It’s a testament to what we’ve done as a team simply because, when you win, people notice you,” Beard said. “Everyone came in and did their part. I honestly don’t think I’m the only All-Star on this team. I think Lindsey Harding deserves to be on there and Crystal Langhorne deserves to be on there, but everyone’s going to see at the end [of the season].”

The Mystics (8-7) are third in the Eastern Conference at the break. Coach Julie Plank has said all year that her main goal is that the team improves throughout the season. From that respect, she is satisfied with the first half.

But the Mystics know the fourth quarter has been their weakness, and that needs to be addressed for them to stay in the playoff hunt. Five of the Mystics’ losses have been decided by seven points or fewer.

“I can only think of two games that we got completely beat,” Harding said. “All the other games were so close, and in a lot of them we were up and then we let them come back and get these wins. What we need to learn is like what we did [Thursday] - getting up on a team and learning how to close out and get wins.”

Paramount to Washington’s success will be its play on the defensive end. That was evident Thursday, when they flustered Chicago All-Stars Sylvia Fowles and Candice Dupree in their most complete performance of the season, a 75-64 victory at Verizon Center.

When the Mystics force turnovers and hold opponents to a low shooting percentage, it lets them get out on the fast break and convert easy baskets. That is the blueprint Plank and general manager Angela Taylor had in mind when reorganizing Washington’s roster in the offseason.

“We have to continue to build,” Beard said. “I thought we had an excellent defensive game [Thursday], and when we play together, when we get it together on defense, we’re hard to stop.”

By following that formula, the Mystics hope to put together a winning streak. They haven’t been able to win consecutive games since starting the season a franchise-best 3-0.

“We have to put two in a row together,” Beard said. “That’s when you know you’re becoming a great team. We have to bring in that focus that we had [Thursday] and continue to play defense. When you play defense, every game is a winnable game.”

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