Washington Mystics must determine what comes next after playoff loss

The Mystics clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and get set to play Atlanta in the first round of the WNBA playoffs.
By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2010; 12:11 AM

ATLANTA - In a few days, after the sting of being swept by the Atlanta Dream in the Eastern Conference semifinals has faded, the Washington Mystics' front office and coaching staff will sit down to evaluate the past season and plan for the future.

Although the season ended more abruptly than they would have liked, the Mystics have plenty to feel good about: They won a team-record 22 games, the first time in franchise history they cracked the 20-win mark; they beat every team in the WNBA at least once; they finished first in the Eastern Conference, making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time; and they accomplished all this despite losing their four-time all-star Alana Beard to ankle surgery before the season started.

In many ways, the season turned out much better than expected - except when it came to the playoffs where once again Washington came up short. The Mystics have lost eight consecutive postseason games and are 4-12 overall in the playoffs.

The organization has boldly stated that its goal is to win WNBA championships. But before that becomes realistic, the Mystics must first win a playoff game.

"I don't look at it as we didn't win a playoff game last year or this year," Coach Julie Plank said. "I look at the whole season and we had a tremendous season.

"The positive thing is we went from making the playoffs and being 16-18 last year to winning an Eastern Conference [regular season title], and the Eastern Conference was a tremendous conference, from top to bottom. . . . I don't think we particularly showed it in the playoffs, but we had a tremendous year. I'm not going to let these two [playoff] games take away from the season that we had."

No one seems able to explain why Washington stumbled, or what needs to be done to have success in the future.

"We're just going through the times when you fail before you succeed," Mystics center Chasity Melvin said. "I can't pinpoint the things that need to be done. I mean, you could say we were missing [Beard], but you don't really want to fall on that because we played without her all season. So you don't want to say that now, that you needed one superstar or whatever. Some people might say that, but at the same time we finished first in the East. I really don't know what to say."

Mystics guard Katie Smith, who said after the game she may not return to Washington next season, said the coaches can't be blamed for the team's poor performance on the court.

"The game plan was good. I think the schemes were good," Smith said. "I think that ultimately, it comes down to us making plays individually. . . .At the end of the day, the coaches give us a good scheme to work with. The players need to execute and find a way on the floor."

The Atlanta Dream came into the league 10 years after the Mystics did. Washington went to the Eastern Conference finals in its fifth season - its best season to date - while the Dream is going in its third year. General Manager Angela Taylor said she is "not at all" frustrated that Atlanta has achieved success quicker than the Mystics.

"We don't base our progress on whatever everyone else is doing," she said. "We're basing our progress on what our plan was, and I think that we're ahead of schedule to a certain extent. We feel like based on what we accomplished this season, we could have beaten anybody and just the cards just didn't fall in our favor during this playoff series."

Taylor said the Mystics a good nucleus of players who have grown by going through the playoffs the past two seasons. She doesn't believe major changes need to be made. Instead, the team will focus on adding to the talent it already has.

"One of the biggest things we have to focus on is our post game," Taylor said. "Crystal Langhorne has been a warrior for us all season long, and I think we need to find a complementary post player. . . . In order for us to be able to really utilize our perimeter game - I think we have the best perimeter game in the WNBA - our interior game is the thing that we really want to focus on."

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