With their leading scorer out because of an undisclosed personal medical issue, the Washington Mystics will enter the month-long Olympic break grateful for the chance to get healthy.
In their final game until Sept. 1, the Mystics have to contend with the surging Phoenix Mercury, who visit MCI Center at noon, bringing in much-heralded rookie Diana Taurasi.
Despite the intrigue that has surrounded the Mystics since Chamique Holdsclaw's initial absence a week ago, the players have maintained they are more concerned with winning games.
"I don't think [Holdsclaw's absence] changes anything," Alana Beard said. "Any team faces adversity, and this is our adversity right here."
Including today's game, five of the Mystics' next six are at MCI Center, a stretch critical to their playoff hopes. If the team falters in the next couple of games, it would quickly fall out of contention for a playoff spot.
After withstanding a second-half onslaught by Nykesha Sales and the Connecticut Sun on Friday, the Mystics are two games out of first place in the tightly contested Eastern Conference, despite being three games below .500 at 11-14. Without Holdsclaw, the team had a balanced offensive attack -- four players scored between 10 and 14 points -- and relied on ball movement, recording 21 assists on 29 baskets.
"These are very important home games to us," Coach Michael Adams said before Friday's win. "We have to win now."
The Mystics are 7-5 this season at MCI Center and 4-9 on the road.
"I don't know if one or two games ever make or break your season, but these are critical games because they're on our home court," Stacey Dales-Schuman said. "They would put us at 12 wins, and when we come back, we have three more games right at home. I expect us to win all of our home games, and that would put us well into playoff contention."
All six Eastern Conference teams are within two games of each other, and first-place Charlotte is the only team with a winning record, at 12-11.
Taurasi, who leads the Mercury with 17.2 points per game, has helped Phoenix (12-12) to four straight wins and fourth place in the Western Conference. Taurasi was the first pick in this year's WNBA draft -- one spot ahead of where Washington chose Beard -- out of the University of Connecticut, where she led the Huskies to three NCAA titles in her four years.
While center Murriel Page said the break would give the Mystics an opportunity to get healthy, citing the injuries of Tamicha Jackson and Dales-Schuman, the team does not know whether Holdsclaw will be back in September.
"Our backs are against the wall, so we're just gonna keep fighting," Adams said after Friday's game. "Keep fighting, keep fighting, try to protect our home court. See if we can get back in this thing and keep it going on Sunday before we go on break."