Back-to-back drubbings at the hands of the Indiana Fever have plunged the Washington Mystics into the Eastern Conference's cellar and have further chipped away at the team's chances of qualifying for the postseason.
At 12-16 (.429), the Mystics are four games under .500 and must win five of their final six games to reach the 17 victories that Coach Michael Adams predicted the team would need to earn a playoff berth.
Trailing the first-place New York Liberty by 11/2 games following the month-long hiatus for the Olympic Games, the Mystics predicted they would play inspired basketball. Facing such an urgent situation, the players spoke of renewed focus and determination.
What they may not have counted on was that their opponents would be just as focused and determined.
The Fever was in last place in the East and loser of six consecutive games before the break. Indiana has evened its record at 15-15 by winning three straight since the break, catapulting the team from sixth to second place.
Another red-hot franchise, the Sacramento Monarchs (15-13), will be trying to extend their four-game winning streak tonight when they face the Mystics at MCI Center.
"Every game is a must-win for us," Yolanda Griffith, the Monarchs' all-star forward, told the Sacramento Bee. "It doesn't matter who we play."
The 6-foot-4, 175-pound Griffith presents the Mystics with the task of stopping another skilled and bruising inside scorer. Griffith is averaging 14.1 points and 7.5 rebounds for the season.
Indiana forward Natalie Williams tallied a combined 32 points in the two games against Washington.
The Mystics are softer in the low post without leading scorer and rebounder Chamique Holdsclaw, who will miss at least one more game because of an undisclosed medical condition.
Chasity Melvin, a 6-3, 189-pound forward, appeared ready to provide the team with a much-needed inside game after scoring 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting against the Fever in Wednesday's 75-58 home loss.
"I just like getting touches," she said. "It's nice getting the ball but this is an important time and we're all capable of scoring."
But Melvin scored only three points in Saturday's defeat at Indiana -- all on free throws -- and did not attempt a shot.
The lack of a strong low-post game has forced Washington to shoot more from the outside, and the Mystics have failed to convert.
In Saturday's 69-42 loss to the Fever, the Mystics shot 28.6 percent (16 of 56), and scored 18 points from the lane, compared with the Fever's 32 points. Nowhere are Washington's shooting woes more evident than at the free throw line. The team made 8 of 16, while the Fever sank all seven of its free throws.