Rested, Refocused Mystics Set Sights on a Playoff Push

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009

If it had been a playoff game -- or simply a game with a closer score -- when Alana Beard rolled her ankle against the Seattle Storm on Tuesday, it would have been impossible to keep the Washington Mystics' all-star on the bench. But with her team trailing, 50-31, with just more than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, the decision to rest Beard was easy.

Beard played 17 minutes against Seattle, her fewest in any game this season. She wasn't the only player who received a break this week.

The Mystics took two days off after their nine-day West Coast road trip, hoping to refocus in preparation for the final six games of the regular season.

"I think Coach [Julie Plank] does a really good job that the players who get a lot of minutes get a lot of rest," said Beard, who added that she doesn't believe the ankle will cause her to miss any games.

"It was good, not just for me but . . . for the entire team, to just get that mental break," Beard continued. "We are in a position where we have to make this push. We have to win at least four out of the last six games and possibly more to make the playoffs."

Losers in six of their past eight games entering Sunday's contest with the Minnesota Lynx (12-16), the Mystics (13-15) sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. League-leading Indiana has already claimed a playoff spot, leaving the Mystics and five other squads vying for the three remaining postseason berths.

But as the stakes rise with each passing game, the Mystics must strike a balance between having their key players prepared and not overworked. Point guard Lindsey Harding (35.5 minutes) and Beard (32.7) rank first and ninth in the league, respectively, in minutes per game. Forward-center Crystal Langhorne, who is third on the team in minutes at 29.5 per game, sees at least seven and a half more minutes of playing time than her next closest teammate.

"I know I've been feeling a little fatigued over time but [Thursday] I felt really good," said Harding, who has led the league in playing time all season. "Right now this is the exciting point though, you kind of forget about how tired you are because you want to be out there to play. On every team someone has some bump or bruise and they're playing through it so you have to, too."

While trying to stay on point physically the Mystics must find a way to snap out of their recent scoring drought. They failed to reach the 70-point plateau in five of their past eight games and watched their three-point shooting plummet to 20 percent (19 of 95) during that same stretch. So during the first practice back after the road trip, the Mystics focused on their offensive schemes, setting the correct screens and maintaining constant ball movement.

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