Barely a week since wowing her coach and teammates in practice -- shooting jumpshots, slashing to the hoop and bulling teammates away from the basket -- Washington Mystics forward Chamique Holdsclaw announced yesterday that she will not return to the lineup for the final five games of the season.

The three-time WNBA all-star already has missed six games because of a "personal medical issue" that she won't reveal "for reasons that are deeply personal," according to a statement released yesterday.

The Mystics (13-16) are two games out of first place in the Eastern Conference with five games remaining and only one game out of a playoff spot. They host the first-place New York Liberty (14-13) tonight at MCI Center.

"I recognize that the limited information that I have shared has resulted in a great deal of speculation about me," Holdsclaw said in her statement released by the team. "I do want to assure you that my circumstances are not life-threatening or even career-threatening. But, right now, my focus is on getting to the point where I feel able to play again."

Mystics President Susan O'Malley, in the same statement, said Holdsclaw has the full support of the organization. "She will be missed by her teammates, coaches and . . . our loyal Mystics fans."

Holdsclaw did not attend practice yesterday.

"She's not here," Washington Coach Michael Adams told reporters. "She has permission from management not to be here."

Adams declined to discuss whether her condition has become worse or how much longer she might be out.

"She's not here so we're not even talking about it," Adams said. "We're just going to play with what we have."

The move came as a surprise even to Pat Summitt, Holdsclaw's coach at the University of Tennessee who is also a consultant to the Mystics. Following a conversation the two had last week over lunch, Summitt said that she got the impression Holdsclaw would return to the lineup this season.

"But it certainly wasn't definite," Summitt said, adding that Holdsclaw seemed optimistic about her future. "I don't know what her plans are. I can only assume that she will be back next season. Beyond that is speculation."

Speculation has dogged Holdsclaw since she first sat out a game on July 24 against the Charlotte Sting.

She missed three games and hadn't practiced for two weeks when the Mystics placed her on the injured list Sept. 1. Holdsclaw added intrigue to the situation, however, by showing up for practice the next day.

She played in scrimmages and drilled with her teammates. She worked out on her own afterward. Adams praised her fitness and athletic ability, saying that only a person with her talent could come back from a month-long layoff to perform as well.

Playing with "what they have" on Tuesday night, the Mystics eked out a 67-63 win in overtime at MCI Center against the Sacramento Monarchs after losing two in a row.

In both losses, the absence of Holdsclaw's scoring and rebounding was easy to spot as the team struggled.

"We obviously miss Chamique's scoring but we've dealt with the situation," forward Stacey Dales-Schuman said. "We've moved on and we're thinking about her, but we're also concentrating on the games ahead of us."

The Mystics defeated the Liberty in both meetings this season, including a 71-54 victory on July 8.