After a winless West Coast trip that left the Washington Mystics emotionally bruised and physically battered, the team walked into practice yesterday and pulled off perhaps the most unlikely feat of their season.
They oozed optimism.
Despite a three-game losing streak, two injured starters, a dysfunctional defense and a game tonight against a top-level WNBA team, the Mystics spoke with a mild swagger.
"We definitely still feel good," guard Alana Beard said.
"We're comfortable and confident," forward Chasity Melvin said.
The source of the Mystics' positive outlook is MCI Center, where they've won five games in a row and where they'll host the Minnesota Lynx at 7 tonight. For the Mystics, playing in Washington has become the ultimate panacea. But after a debilitating road trip, even home-court advantage may not cure all.
"We're all excited to be home," Melvin said. "We've been able to get on a roll here. This building just seems to give us momentum."
The question is, how much can momentum cure? It likely won't be able to heal Stacey Dales-Schuman (sore heel) or Tamicha Jackson (strained knee). Both Mystics starters are day-to-day after suffering injuries on the road trip. Neither played against Los Angeles on Wednesday, but both could play tonight.
Can momentum fix defense? The Mystics gave up more than 80 points in each of their three West Coast losses after holding opponents under that number for 15 consecutive games. All three opponents -- Seattle, Sacramento and Los Angeles -- shot better than 50 percent. Los Angeles scored a season-high 26 fast-break points against the Mystics.
"We gave up a lot of points, too many points," Coach Michael Adams said. "You can't win games giving up 80 points, that's for sure. Obviously our transition defense was not in sync."
In an effort to prevent fast breaks, Adams said his guards will stop going after offensive rebounds and instead run back down court quickly after missed shots. He pulled guards Beard and Coco Miller -- both good offensive rebounders -- aside during yesterday's practice and said: "We're not going to crash the boards as much as we used to."
"Coco and I like to rebound a lot, but now we've just got to get back down the court," Beard said. "We can't have teams running on us. It's frustrating not to go after [rebounds], but that's what I have to do."
"If we can fix transition defense, we'll get things going," Melvin said. "We always play better when we're at home, anyway."