- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In what has been a flat-out awful season for the Washington Mystics (5-24), the unexpected return of Monique Currie to the lineup could provide the spark to help pull them out of a nine-game losing streak.

Currie was expected to miss the entire season recovering from ACL surgery, but she will make her season debut Thursday night when the Mystics host the Atlanta Dream (16-13). Last season, Currie averaged 14.1 points and 4.8 rebounds. Currie also led the team in 3-point field goal percentage (44.6).

Currie’s playing time will be monitored closely by the Mystics’ trainer, so she will not be available in Friday’s back-to-back with the Dream in Atlanta. Currie is, however, expected to play in the final three games of the season.

Trudi Lacey, in her first year as coach and general manager after two years as an assistant coach, is making changes to assess the team’s strengths and weaknesses for next year. Currie’s return will help give Lacey a clearer picture.

Lacey overhauled the starting lineup for the Mystics’ game at Minnesota on Tuesday, going with rookie point guard Jasmine Thomas over 11-year veteran Kelly Miller, forward Kerri Gardin over Marissa Coleman, and center DeMya Walker over Nicky Anosike.

Remaining in place were All-Star Crystal Langhorne, the team’s leading scorer and most consistent player, and Matee Ajavon, whose breakout season as a scorer and playmaker have made her a candidate for the league’s most improved player - although she does struggle with consistency.

Despite the changes, the Mystics fell to the Lynx 73-56.

“I changed the starting lineup. Jas [Thomas] played a lot of minutes tonight. It’s important that she gets that experience,” Lacey said. “Our team is young and we haven’t played together all that long, and we’ve had a short bench. We have really been focusing this season on improving, learning each other, learning to play together.”

The Mystics have played with a short bench all season, with Currie and Alana Beard sidelined. Beard, who also missed all of least season, was expected to play this year, but a left foot injury has kept her on the bench. The team announced Aug. 10 that Beard would not return this season.

Currie’s return, however limited, will provide some much-needed assistance for Coleman, who has struggled offensively all season. Coleman often draws the toughest defensive assignments and has missed Currie’s presence on the court.

Also struggling this season is Anosike, who was acquired primarily for defense and rebounding but has been a nonfactor on offense. She has lost playing time to Walker recently.

The biggest question mark for next season is Beard, who is a free agent and faces an uncertain future after missing back-to-back seasons.

As for the final games of 2011, Langhorne repeated the only mantra left for a team that struggles to win.

“We’re going to continue to play hard. That’s the type of team we have,” Langhorne said. “Just try to build on things for next year.”

• Carla Peay can be reached at cpeay@washingtontimes.com.

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