Playoff rebound is Mystics' goal

After dropping 9 of 12, team faces Sting in best-of-3 opener tonight

Pro Basketball

August 15, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

These should be great times for the Washington Mystics.

The Mystics, a model WNBA franchise off the court, finally had a season to match it on the court, notching their first winning season at 17-15 and best finish at third place in the East in their five years of existence.

Their star forward, Chamique Holdsclaw, handily won both the league scoring and rebounding titles while establishing herself as a Most Valuable Player candidate, while their two prime first-year players, guard Stacey Dales-Schuman and forward Asjha Jones, were among the leaders in scoring among rookies.

But, to take the rosy view of where Washington ended up would ignore how it got there. The Mystics, who open a best-of-three Eastern semifinal series tonight against the Charlotte Sting at MCI Center, lost nine of their last 12 games over the final month, tumbling from a 3 1/2 -game perch atop the Eastern Conference in July all the way to third.

As a result, after dropping the regular-season finale to Charlotte on Tuesday, 67-57, the Mystics, who looked like a lock to reach the WNBA Finals a month ago, now look more like a team that could get bounced out in the first round, which concludes with games Saturday and Monday in Charlotte.

While Holdsclaw, who missed 12 games due to injury and death in her family, has been solid throughout, her teammates have been wildly inconsistent.

Second-year guard Coco Miller, an early candidate for Most Improved Player, seemed to have emerged from a mid-July funk, only to score 12 points in the last three games, including just two in Tuesday's loss.

Dales-Schuman, who led the Oklahoma Sooners to the NCAA championship game in early April, seemed to hit the rookie wall, scoring in double figures only twice in her last nine games.

Jones, whose Connecticut Huskies beat the Sooners for the NCAA title, likewise tailed off down the stretch, scoring only a combined nine points in her last four games.

As the Mystics head for their second playoff appearance, only Holdsclaw, center Vicky Bullett, forward Murriel Page and little-used backup center Tausha Mills have any postseason experience. Charlotte, meanwhile, returns an entire team that reached the WNBA Finals last year.

"Experience outweighs everything," Dales-Schuman said. "Coming from college, we were one of the most experienced teams out there and we did better because we were smarter. You have to look at these opportunities ... as something to learn from. It's playoff atmosphere."

The question now for the Mystics is whether there is enough magic left from the first half of the season to make the pain of the second half disappear.

"We can play with anyone," Holdsclaw said. "I don't think anyone in this league throws anything at us that we can't handle. If anything, we self-destruct. We're a very talented team with a lot of weapons. When we focus on what we have to do and play together, I don't think a team can stop us. Normally, it's us. It's turnovers, missing chippies. That's what kills us."

WNBA playoffs

First round(Best of three; *- if necessary) Eastern Conference

Charlotte vs. Washington

Today: at Washington, 8 p.m. Saturday: at Charlotte, noon *Monday: at Charlotte, 7 p.m.

New York vs. Indiana

Tomorrow: at Indiana, 7 p.m. Sunday: at New York, noon *Tuesday: at New York, 8 p.m. Western Conference

Los Angeles vs. Seattle

Today: at Seattle, 10 p.m. Saturday: at Los Angeles, 4 p.m. *Monday: at Los Angeles, TBA

Houston vs. Utah

Tomorrow: at Utah, 9 p.m. Sunday: at Houston, 4:30 p.m. *Tuesday: at Houston, TBA

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