Forward Chasity Melvin proposed a new motto yesterday for the Washington Mystics. She surveyed her team -- a first-year coach, two rookies and two new acquisitions -- and said: "Listen, we're The New Washington Mystics."
Back-to-back games today and Thursday will go a long way toward determining whether that's true. If the Mystics (5-7) lose at Connecticut tonight and again Thursday at 8 p.m. against Indiana at MCI Center, they'll be four games under .500 and expectations will once again be lowered to the franchise's historical trend of long, losing seasons.
If the Mystics can win both games, though, they'll reach .500 and enter the second half of the season with a realistic shot at making the postseason for just the third time in their seven-year history.
"These are must-win games for us," Coach Michael Adams said. "We can't afford to fall too far behind. When you look at our season, we really need these two wins."
Even though the Mystics have been under .500 since the third game of the season, Tuesday's practice buzzed with optimism. Players talked excitedly about making a run at the playoffs. To a number, they seemed confident they would win tonight.
The source of that confidence, though, is difficult to find. The Mystics have already lost to Connecticut twice, including a 75-65 drubbing on June 20 in which Washington fell behind by 17 in the first half.
"We've had some pretty bad games against them," Melvin said. "We came out and we just weren't ready to play. That won't happen again. This game is too important. We need to turn things around."
"The difference this time," rookie guard Alana Beard said, "is that we've got a whole lot of urgency."
Adams has made sure of that. The first-year coach makes a habit of ending every practice with a simple message: "We need to win."
He has reminded his team of Washington's recent history -- the Mystics were 2-8 at this time last season -- and told them that franchise standards have changed.
"I'm not happy," Adams said. "No, I'm not close to happy. We don't have anything to be happy about this season. We should be doing a lot better than we are right now, and the players know that. We need to turn things around."
If Melvin has anything to say about it, they'll start that process by adopting the new motto. But to really distance themselves from their dubious past, the Mystics may need to win the next two days.
"We've got a chance to prove that we're better than people think," Melvin said. "Over the next few days, we've got to figure out our identity."