- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

As the only remaining undefeated team in the WNBA, the Washington Mystics haven’t had to make too many adjustments so far this season. But there is one early-season trend they would like to halt.

In their wins against Atlanta and injury-laden Detroit, the Mystics (3-0) fell behind early before furious second-quarter rallies swung the game in their favor. Washington outscored the Dream and Shock by a combined 55-14 in those periods.

“It’s something that we shouldn’t have to do,” point guard Lindsey Harding said. “For us to be able to do that is great, but it’s early. When it comes late in the season when everyone’s tired, if we get down, it’s going to be really hard to come back. So we’re focusing on starting off the way we play later in the second, third and fourth quarter.”

The Mystics’ bench played a big part in getting them back into those games. Seven Washington players are averaging more than 20 minutes a game, though the team lost one key contributor this week when rookie Marissa Coleman suffered a high ankle sprain.

But Washington isn’t fretting over the loss of its second-leading scorer. Heading into back-to-back games Friday and Saturday against Atlanta and Chicago, the Mystics brought back Kristen Mann, a capable 3-point shooter, to replace Coleman’s perimeter presence. And most of all, the new coaching staff and front office have finally stabilized the organization.

“The biggest thing is we just have a system, more so than we’ve had in the past,” said center Chasity Melvin, whose first stint in Washington ran from 2004 to 2007. “I think the inconsistency with the Mystics was that we had our starters but you didn’t know who was coming off the bench. Everybody knows their role on the team this year, and that’s critical.

“But we’re still very competitive because we have a great bench. They can be starters somewhere on another team. At the same time they’re like, ‘This is my role. This is my job. Just be ready to step up whenever,’ and that helps the coach and helps the team out a lot.”

The Mystics blamed their eight-point first quarter against Atlanta to home-opener jitters and said they needed the first quarter against Detroit to feel out their patchwork lineup before becoming the aggressor. During both comebacks, Washington showed a proficiency on both ends of the court that it lacked in recent seasons, evidenced by its league-leading plus-8 scoring differential.

And while the first-quarter scuffles have been unsettling for coach Julie Plank, she said she is pleased that Washington has been the better team late in games.

“I tell our team that everybody in the league is good and we’re not just going to come out and have a lead the whole season,” Plank said. “We have to play through things, and I think we’ve done that very well. We’ve overcome a 14-point deficit, and we’ve held leads when we had them on the road.”

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