On the drawing board in the Washington Mystics' locker room, there is a written reminder of the drive to the playoffs, and after the Mystics defeated New York, 59-56 in overtime Wednesday night, there are reminders in the league standings as well.
With four games left, the Mystics (11-17) are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, trailing Detroit (12-15), which holds the third and final playoff spot in the conference, by 1 1/2 games. Orlando (11-16) is a half-game ahead of the Mystics.
"We were aware [of the playoff picture] even when we were down after the all-star break," Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch said yesterday. "We paid attention to the other teams in the conference and knew that if we could get on a little run, we could be right in it."
Because each team has conference games remaining, the playoff picture is blurry. But if the Shock wins three of its five remaining games, it will clinch the playoff spot, even if Washington wins the rest of its games.
For the Mystics to make the playoffs, they would have to win three of their four remaining games and Orlando and Detroit would have to finish with at least 19 losses. If Washington wins its final four games and Detroit and Orlando finish with 18 losses, the Mystics are in.
If Washington finishes tied with Detroit for the third spot, the playoff berth would go to the team that has the better conference record. The Mystics have a 10-8 conference record with two conference games remaining, against Orlando and New York. Detroit has a 9-6 record in the conference, with all five of its remaining games against conference opponents.
Darsch said the fact that Detroit has an extra game and more conference games isn't an obvious advantage for the Shock. "They could be possible losses," she said. "It depends how you look at it."
Washington's record this season against its last four opponents -- Los Angeles, Orlando, New York and Minnesota -- is a combined 5-3. But the Sparks, who will visit MCI Center on Saturday, defeated Washington on July 31 in Los Angeles, 81-64, and the Mystics are 1-2 against Orlando this season.
Detroit has lost three of its last five games and Orlando has dropped four of its last six. Both are helping the Mystics by driving down the price of the playoff spot. Last season, each of the four teams that made the playoffs had won at least 60 percent of its games. There is an expanded playoff format this season, and of the three teams vying for the third playoff spot in the East, only Detroit has a chance to finish with a winning record.
And if the Mystics do make the playoffs, albeit with a losing record, Darsch will offer no apologies.
"If we make it, we'll have earned it," she said. "All you can do is look at your own schedule and try to go out and have fun and win each game."