As offense sputters, Mystics dealt a 4th straight loss, 70-55

Orlando's victory drops Washington into tie for 1st

Pro Basketball

July 31, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Mystics' dream run atop the WNBA's Eastern Conference took on nightmare-like qualities with last night's 70-55 loss to the Orlando Miracle at MCI Center.

As a result, the Mystics (15-10), who have led the East alone since two weeks into the 32-game season and have led by as many as 3 1/2 games, will wake up this morning in a first-place tie with the New York Liberty.

"We need an attitude check," said Washington coach Marianne Stanley, who hinted after the game at lineup changes for Friday's game against Portland. "This isn't any panic situation. No one in our locker room is panicked, but it's like you're lost and can't find your way and the answers are right inside of you. You don't look outside for it. You look inside for it. We're clearly a team that did not perform well in any phase of anything."

Indeed, the Miracle (12-13), which had lost seven of nine games before last night and is fighting for the fourth and final Eastern playoff spot, controlled the tempo. Orlando put Washington back on its heels from the opening tap, leading by as much as 17 in the first half.

"I have no answers to anything," Mystics center Vicky Bullett said. "Day by day, we're just trying to find ourselves, and we're just slipping into a mode that we don't want to. We need to get out of it."

For a second straight game, the Mystics had problems containing an opposition duo. Where Seattle's Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird combined for 46 points in Saturday's 80-71 home loss to the Storm, Orlando's Nykesha Sales and Shannon Johnson teamed up to score all but 21 of the Miracle's points last night, sending Washington to a season-high fourth straight loss - fifth in six games.

Sales, who had a game-high 25 points and Johnson, who chipped in 24, triggered a 14-0 Orlando run to start the game.

Washington did trim the deficit to 48-43 with 8:39 to play on a Bullett layup. But Orlando's Adrienne Johnson found a seam in the Washington zone on three straight possessions, each time hitting a 15-foot jumper on the baseline to launch a 10-2 run that effectively ended the contest.

Just as against Seattle, the Mystics' offense seemed confined to forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds in her second game back after missing nine because of an ankle sprain.

For a second straight game, Holdsclaw was the only Washington player to score in double figures, as the rest of the Mystics appeared to press, shooting a combined 15-for-55, once Holdsclaw's 8-for-18 was factored out.

"This is something that we wanted," Holdsclaw said. "This is why we worked so hard in the preseason to get to this level. Now, we're here. Are we going to defend it or be soft? It's about time to defend it."

When Sales and Johnson weren't popping three-pointers (4-for-6 combined in the first half), they were picking the Mystics clean for steals or forcing turnovers and converting for layups. That ruined the whole point of the Mystics' Monday practice, which was devoted to transition defense.

The Miracle turned 12 Washington turnovers into 16 points in the first half. Washington was charged with only one miscue after halftime, but by then, the damage had been done.

"That's why they [Sales and Shannon Johnson] are All-Stars," said Orlando coach Dee Brown. "They took the challenge of stepping up. It was the things they did on defense that got them shots. They started to play more aggressive defense and they feed off things like that."

And now, the remnants have to be picked up in time for the Mystics to keep their dream of a deep playoff run intact.

"We didn't all of a sudden get stupid basketball-wise, and we didn't become a different team, but we strayed from the good fundamental things that we did early on, and the intensity level and the decision-making. We need to find it again, and it's not outside our locker room. It's in our locker room," Stanley said.

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