Shock 73, Mystics 65

After spending the last four days dealing with a private medical issue, Chamique Holdsclaw returned to the Washington Mystics yesterday.

Too bad she failed to bring any answers with her.

Despite looking healthy and energized while scoring 12 points in 30 minutes, Holdsclaw couldn't solve the Mystics' growing list of problems as the team fell to the Detroit Shock, 73-65, at MCI Center last night. The Mystics (10-14) have lost five of their last six games.

The Mystics seemed a bit surprised that Holdsclaw played at all yesterday. The star forward pulled out of a road trip to Charlotte on Saturday afternoon, and she had not attended a team practice since. She missed the team's morning shootaround yesterday, and Coach Michael Adams created a game plan expecting Holdsclaw to sit out.

But at 3:30 yesterday afternoon, Adams called Holdsclaw and talked to her for the first time since Saturday. "She sounded good," Adams said. "She said she wanted to give it a go."

"We stretched her out a lot in warmups and she seemed good," said Jonathan Jones, the Mystics' strength and conditioning coach. "She looked great, like she always does."

For once, though, Holdsclaw struggled when the Mystics needed her most. After a closely played first half, the Mystics watched helplessly as Detroit built an 11-point lead. Holdsclaw turned over the ball twice early in the half, and both turnovers led to easy layups. "I could tell," said Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer, "that she looked a little bit rusty."

For the rest of the game, Holdsclaw, who has declined to speak to the media, missed the key jumpers she's grown accustomed to making. She clanked two 15-footers in a row late in the half and made just 3 of 13 shots in the game. Largely as a result, the Mystics never moved closer than four points.

"It's tough to come back," said Mystics guard Alana Beard, who scored a team-high 20 points. Holdsclaw "is so mentally strong, but even for her it's hard to come back and get in a groove."

To make Holdsclaw's day even worse, she dislocated her right pinkie finger with less than four minutes left. She walked to the sideline and a team trainer popped the finger back into place while Holdsclaw grimaced in pain. She re-entered the game two minutes later.

Adams watched with mounting disbelief. He stomped his feet. He cursed at his players. He turned to assistant coach Linda Hargrove and said Holdsclaw "is usually automatic with that shot."

It's a frustration that's been building for nearly three weeks now. The Mystics reached .500 for the first time in more than a year on July 8, beating the New York Liberty to improve to 8-8. Since then, the Mystics have crumbled.

Starting guard Tamicha Jackson has sat out the last four games with a knee injury and Stacey Dales-Schuman missed the three games before yesterday's with a sore heel. Add Holdsclaw's absence and the Mystics have fallen deep into last place in the Eastern Conference.

The one bit of good news? Holdsclaw looks healthy.

If the Mystics harbored lingering concerns about Holdsclaw's health, they sure didn't act like it.

Adams held Holdsclaw out of the starting lineup to avoid exhausting her. But, after the Mystics turned over the ball three times in the first 2:34, Adams sent Holdsclaw into the game. She didn't return to the bench for nearly 13 minutes.

Despite playing 30 minutes, just a few under her average, Holdsclaw never looked tired or pained.

"She's definitely back," Beard said. "I could see that in her game."

* LYNX 66, SILVER STARS 53: Tamika Williams scored 13 points and rookie Nicole Ohlde had 10 to lead a balanced attack at home for Minnesota.

* STING 63, FEVER 53: Rookie reserve Nicole Powell scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead visiting Charlotte.