The Washington Mystics, with one of the most vocal and loyal fan followings in the WNBA, are going on three weeks without rewarding their home crowd with a victory.
Tonight, in their first game in a week, the Mystics will try to break that skid against the defending league champion Detroit Shock at MCI Center. The Mystics won at Detroit last week, 65-63.
Only one game separates the Mystics (2-4) and Shock (3-3) in the Eastern Conference, but Washington is only a half-game from the bottom and has been struggling with the fundamentals: defense and rebounding. Michael Adams, the team's first-year coach, has spent the week drilling the Mystics on these areas of concern.
"You work on the things that you think are going to get your team better," Adams said. Defense and rebounding "are the things we have to concentrate on."
Washington has the second-worst defense in the WNBA, giving up 73.5 points per game. (Only Los Angeles' opponents are scoring more.) The Mystics also are being out-rebounded by their opponents by nearly four rebounds per game.
"It's all about defense," forward Aiysha Smith said. "The offense will come if you play defense. You have to make sure everybody has their player and box them out. It's a team effort. Everybody has to box out. If one person isn't boxing out, the [opposing] player can slip in and get the ball. It's just effort."
Adams, who significantly changed the starting lineup in the Mystics' last game against Detroit, was noncommittal when asked who was going to start tonight. Two players who were sidelined in Washington's 72-63 loss to Connecticut a week ago are expected to play. Point guard Tamicha Jackson, who started the first four games but did not play in the last two because of a strained hamstring, and guard Coco Miller, who did not play against Connecticut because of a sprained ankle, practiced this week.
Against Detroit and Connecticut, Adams started a taller lineup -- Alana Beard, Stacey Dales-Schuman, Smith, Chamique Holdsclaw and Nakia Sanford -- which led to the Mystics out-rebounding the Shock, 37-35.
"I've been changing the lineup in practice all week, trying to find the right combination," Adams said. "That was the team that played well against Detroit last week. I'm leaning toward going that way again. We played [the Shock] well. We didn't come out flat because I changed the lineup. It looks like we may stay that way [tonight]."
No matter who starts, Adams plans to play a number of players.
"You may see us substitute a little quicker this time around because I think we had people out there who were getting a little tired," Adams said. "Now that T.J. is back and Coco is back, we'll try to rotate players. . . . We'll try to make changes early and keep fresh bodies in."