The Washington Mystics have returned home from two weeks of airports and airplanes. They played six times in 11 days, in six cities and four time zones, won the first and last games and lost the four in the middle. And everywhere the team went, its season-long problems followed.
Pick an on-court weakness, and the Mystics will continue trying to solve it tonight at MCI Center when they play the Orlando Miracle (10-13), which won by 25 points during its last visit to Washington, July 19.
A lot of the pressure falls squarely on the Mystics' post players. At times, the Mystics (7-17) compensated for lack of size at center by varying their 2-3 zone defense. It helped the Mystics outrebound opponents most of the season but was ineffective during the road trip. The Mystics were outrebounded in every game but one, a 60-55 win at Minnesota on July 23. In that game, the teams evenly divided the rebounds.
The Mystics do not have a tall, dominating center. They have a 6-foot-1 forward, Shalonda Enis, and a 6-2 center, Murriel Page, who try to shoot over taller opponents.
"Everyone else's true centers are just taller," said Enis, who made fewer than half of her shots on the road trip and is shooting 38.2 percent overall. "It makes it kind of hard when you go against the Lisa Leslies and the other really huge post players and you don't have that size on them. We need to focus on team defense and helping out each other.
"But we had some games where our post [players] were very effective. We just have to use our quickness to our advantage."
Page leads the WNBA in field goal percentage (56.6) but does not shoot as often as forward Chamique Holdsclaw or guard Nikki McCray. The most shots she took in a game during the road trip was nine. Holdsclaw averaged nearly 15 shots and McCray, who led the team in scoring five of the six games, averaged 13.
The Mystics were counting on 6-4 center Alessandra Santos de Oliveira to help inside, but she struggled and was traded to Houston for center Nyree Roberts on July 11. The two players the Mystics brought in--free agent Val Still and Roberts--have provided little relief.
Still was held scoreless in four games and Roberts played a total of seven minutes during the road games. Six-foot-five center Heather Owen's scoring line during the road trip? Games of three points, two points (twice), one point and two scoreless. Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch said acquiring a bigger, traditional center in the offseason was something the team "would look at, for sure."
During three of the Mystics' four losses on the road, an opposing team's leading scorer was its center. In three games, Washington allowed at least 40 points inside. Two of the three games in which the Mystics outscored their opponent inside were wins.
"Not having someone who is 6-6 or 6-8 that can help you in there does affect you," Darsch said.
"It affects us being able to rebound, get good shots in the paint. Going against smaller teams like Minnesota and Detroit [both Mystics victories] really helped us. We feel a lot more comfortable with that. It removes one additional hurdle that we have to face any time we go in the paint."
Nearly every game it plays, Washington's undersized lineup is forced to measure up with increased intensity.
"I don't know if we feel short-handed, but we'd love to have somebody that's 6-6 who's mobile and can do great things," Darsch said.
"But we have to rely on our team defense and be aggressive in other ways. When we do that, we're okay."
Data: vs. Orlando Miracle.
Where: MCI Center.
When: 7 p.m.
Records: Miracle 10-13, Mystics 7-17.
Injuries: Mystics F Penny Moore (shoulder) is on the injured list. Miracle reported no injuries.