Mystics 82, Mercury 62

For 26 games, the Washington Mystics have teetered on the edge of disaster.

Nine players have started games, sparking early-season chemistry problems. Their franchise player has disappeared, and their starting point guard is hurt. They've spent most of the season in last place in the Eastern Conference.

But the Mystics managed to enter the WNBA's month-long break feeling good.

The Mystics trounced the Phoenix Mercury, 82-62, at MCI Center yesterday afternoon, and players heralded the win as an ultimate cure-all in a season filled with disappointment. With star Chamique Holdsclaw out because of an undisclosed medical problem and guard Tamicha Jackson nursing a strained knee, the Mystics (12-14) have managed to win back-to-back games, keeping their playoff hopes alive for at least another month.

"Our players are supporting each other," Coach Michael Adams said. "We've been down, frustrated and in the cellar. It's us against the world. That's the approach our players have right now, and it's got us some momentum going into the break."

The Mystics' vacation started 20 minutes early yesterday. They put Phoenix away in the first half, making the game's sloppy finish irrelevant.

The Mystics scored 47 points before halftime -- the most they've scored in a half all season -- to build a 13-point lead. They compensated for Holdsclaw's absence with red-hot shooting and well-balanced scoring. Four Mystics finished in double figures, led by Chasity Melvin (17 points) and Alana Beard (16 points). The team shot 54 percent, a season high.

"We couldn't stop them," Mercury Coach Carrie Graf said. "They didn't miss."

Clinging to a 28-27 lead with 8 minutes 10 seconds left in the first half, the Mystics reeled off a 12-2 run to seize control. When Phoenix finally called a timeout to stop the run, Beard ran to the Washington bench and screamed, "You can't stop us!"

"It makes a lot of difference when we're high-fiving and showing emotion," Beard said. "We're bonded by adversity. We're playing for each other out there."

Phoenix never came within 10 points again, largely because star guard Diana Taurasi -- who many of the 15,093 fans came to see -- played just four minutes. Plagued by a nagging hip pointer, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 WNBA draft limped around the court and never took a shot.

"We just dominated," Melvin said. "This was a big confidence booster. These last two games really showed that when we play as a team, we can do anything."

Question is, can they accomplish either of the two goals Adams has defined this season by? Will they finish over .500 and make the playoffs?

With eight games left, the Mystics are a long way from either. They're 12-14 and second-to-last in the Eastern Conference. They close the season with three straight games on the road, where they're just 4-9 this year.

Mystics players will take a 10-day break before coming back to practice Aug. 11, when Adams will begin a two-week clinic aimed at eliminating the team's greatest weakness: rebounding.

"That's been the difference in a lot of games," Adams said. "We have to learn to rebound as a group, because we don't have a lot of players who can go out and just get it."

The Mystics have one advantage going into the break: Because no Washington player will compete in the Olympics, the whole team will be around to practice.

"I know we've got some work to do," Beard said. "But right now it feels like anything is possible at the end of this season."

* STORM 87, STING 55: Olympian Lauren Jackson scored 25 points to lift Seattle at home. Jackson, who will play for Australia in the Games, also grabbed eight rebounds for the Storm (17-8).

* LYNX 59, SHOCK 58: Svetlana Abrosimova scored 12 points and Tamika Williams had 11 points and nine rebounds to lift Minnesota at home.

Mystics' Alana Beard swats away a shot, and earns a foul for her effort, against Mercury's Shereka Wright. Mystics scored 47 points in the first half.