WASHINGTON - The halftime entertainment for last night's Washington Mystics game consisted of a hypnotist who persuaded some of the fans to act like, among other things, symphony conductors, fish and Michael Jackson.
In the wake of last night's 67-65 loss to the Portland Fire at MCI Center, however, the Mystics might want to consider getting the hypnotist back to plant a suggestion to the players that they are still a playoff team.
Despite playing their best game in a few weeks, the Mystics (15-11) dropped their fifth straight and sixth in the past seven games. The loss sent them tumbling out of first place in the WNBA's Eastern Conference for the first time in nearly two months as the New York Liberty beat the Miami Sol, 66-54, to take over sole possession of the East by a game with six left for each team. The Mystics need three wins to clinch the second playoff berth in the team's five-year history.
To make matters potentially worse, Washington's star forward, Chamique Holdsclaw, just three games back from missing nine with a high left-ankle sprain, missed the final three minutes with a right-ankle sprain.
Holdsclaw, who ironically hurt her left ankle in Portland in a collision with Fire forward DeMya Walker, again tumbled over Walker last night, but said the immediate ankle sprain was not as serious as the first and declared herself day-to-day.
Holdsclaw missed a pair of foul shots that would have tied the score with 3:06 to go, then left for the locker room where she was treated, but could not return.
"I went down the court. I missed those free throws and I could feel, even when I was at the free-throw line, that the balance didn't feel right. It was like all the weight was on this one [the right one] and it really got sore," said Holdsclaw, who had a game-high 26 points.
The Mystics, who have won just once since the All-Star break, looked more crisp than they have at any point in the past three weeks, committing just nine turnovers and shooting 47 percent from the floor.
"We broke out of our rut to a great degree," said Washington coach Marianne Stanley. "We just did not win the game. We have to appreciate the fact that we played together as a team, we played hard and we could have easily been standing up here saying, `Hey, great win. We're out of the rut.' It's a whisper that separates one from the other."
However, the Mystics failed at critical junctures, missing five straight free throws in the final three minutes, not to mention being outscored 25-6 by Portland's reserves.
And Washington's guards were unable to stop Portland's backcourt tandem of Ukari Figgs and Tamicha Jackson, who took turns hurting the Mystics in the second half.
Figgs, who had 16 points, with four three-pointers, had eight points in a row during one stretch to give Portland (16-12) a 53-46 lead with 12:37 to go. Meanwhile, Jackson had eight points and gave the slower Mystics guards fits with her ability to penetrate off the dribble.
Using a 9-0 run, Washington forged a 65-65 tie with 2:02 to go on a Coco Miller layup, before Figgs hit a 12-foot banker with 1:35 remaining for the eventual game-winner for Portland (16-12). The Mystics had a chance to tie, but Murriel Page's inbounds pass to Helen Luz was picked off by Portland's Stacy Thomas at the buzzer.
"You have to get stops when you need them and we traded baskets for a bit," said Stanley. "Down at the end, we were in a position to give ourselves a chance to win. And when those things are served up to you, you want to take advantage of them."
W L Pct. GB
New York 16 10 .615 -
Washington 15 11 .577 1
Charlotte 14 12 .538 2
Orlando 13 13 .500 3
Miami 12 16 .429 5
Indiana 11 15 .423 5
Cleveland 10 16 .385 6
Detroit 6 20 .231 10
W L Pct. GB
x-Los Angeles 20 6 .769 -
x-Houston 20 7 .741 1/2
Utah 18 9 .667 2 1/2
Portland 16 12 .571 5
Seattle 15 13 .536 6
Sacramento 10 16 .385 10
Phoenix 9 18 .333 11 1/2
Minnesota 8 19 .296 12 1/2
x-clinched playoff spot
Portland 67, Washington 65 New York 66, Miami 54 Minnesota 75, Phoenix 51
Los Angeles at Sacramento, 4 p.m. Detroit at Cleveland, 7 p.m. Charlotte at Indiana, 8 p.m. Orlando at Houston, 8:30 p.m.