- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

The memories of two-a-day practices during training camp are still fresh in the minds of the Washington Mystics’ players. Most of them had never experienced such grueling sessions, but they accepted the task with a singular goal in mind: making the playoffs.

With two games left, the fifth-place Mystics (15-17) are on the outside looking in and likely will need to beat Atlanta and New York to end the franchise’s three-year postseason drought.

“This is what it comes down to,” point guard Lindsey Harding said. “This is what all the hard work is for - to get to this point and actually have the opportunity. This is the first time in my WNBA career that I have a chance to be in the playoffs, so I definitely am not taking it for granted.”

That Washington’s playoff fate will be decided during the season’s final weekend seems fitting because the franchise is trying to turn it around after bottoming out last year. The Mystics have battled inconsistency all season; their 3-0 start is the longest winning streak they’ve had.

But all the while, the Mystics have kept a positive attitude and have maintained that their hard work will pay off.

“Playoffs for the Mystics would be a huge accomplishment, especially coming off a 10-win season last year,” forward Monique Currie said. “It’s in our hands, and we can make it happen.”

Saturday’s game against the second-place Dream (17-15) is essential for that to happen. The teams haven’t played each other since July 3, and the Dream’s dynamic has changed a bit since then.

Atlanta lost Chamique Holdsclaw to a knee injury and replaced her in the starting lineup with rookie Angel McCoughtry, and the No. 1 pick responded with a sizzling August in which she averaged 17.3 points. Atlanta has vaulted up the standings and is a more poised, confident team than it was at the beginning of the season.

But the Mystics have improved, too, having put behind them a tendency to falter in the fourth quarter that often plagued them early this season. And because of that, they are even more determined to push through to the postseason.

“We’ve worked very hard, and we’ve had a lot of close games - games we don’t want to look back on and talk about what we could’ve and should’ve won and what we could’ve and should’ve done,” Currie said.

The leaders in the Mystics’ locker room made sure they stayed at even keel in practice this week, maintaining focus on the task at hand while not overemphasizing the obvious repercussions of their results this weekend. The team that had so many fresh faces in May has bonded, and the players said a postseason berth would be an emotional lift as well as a professional high.

“It would be great to win together. This is a new situation for all of us,” Harding said. “I know I’m really excited. We’ve worked so hard every single day since training camp, and it’s about time for us to hopefully make the playoffs.”

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