At 1-2, the Washington Mystics still have plenty of the WNBA season remaining, but the team also understands that the league's 34-game schedule can go by quickly.

"It's a short season and we understand that, but I've been in this situation before where we've started off bad and then we winded up winning; and I've been with teams that started off good and wound up struggling," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said. "When we get healthy we will be very good, but until then we have to fight through it."

The Mystics, who haven't played since an 84-75 home loss to the Los Angeles Sparks last Thursday, return to action tonight when they host the New York Liberty at MCI Center. Like the Mystics, the Liberty (0-2) will be playing with a sense of desperation.

Despite having a strong lineup that includes Becky Hammon, Ann Wauters and Vickie Johnson, New York shot just 36.8 percent and was badly outrebounded in home losses to Detroit and Indiana. Hammon, a 2004 WNBA all-star, called the 0-2 start "embarrassing" and vowed to turn things around.

Adubato, who coached the Liberty for five seasons and led the team to three Eastern Conference titles, used the five-day break between games to prepare for his former team.

"They have a talented team and they have a veteran team," Adubato said. "Plus, they play in New York and they've been hearing about it, so I expect them to come out on fire."

The Mystics likely will play without star guard Alana Beard, who missed the first three games with a sprained ankle. Beard, who was the team's leading returning scorer after averaging 13.1 points per game as a rookie last season, has been participating in shooting drills and non-contact work in practice but may not be cleared to play until Friday night's home game against Minnesota.

Beard also missed time during training camp with a hamstring injury and has been frustrated by the sudden onslaught of bad luck after a mostly injury-free college career at Duke.

"I broke my right thumb when I was a freshman, but that wasn't as bad because I still had my legs and I could still do something," Beard said. "To sit around and do nothing has been very frustrating, but I guess that's just God teaching me patience. That's something I haven't had before and I'm learning it now."

Until Beard returns, the Mystics must get contributions from throughout the lineup. Adubato has been pleasantly surprised by the sharp shooting of rookie guard Laurie Koehn, who was not drafted coming out of Kansas State but fought the odds to make the Washington roster.

Koehn and forward Chasity Melvin are the team's leading scorers at 11.7 points per game, and Koehn's 10 three-pointers tie her for second in the WNBA with Minnesota's Katie Smith.

Mystics Note: Forward DeLisha Milton-Jones, who is averaging 8.7 points per game, left practice early yesterday with a hamstring injury and will be evaluated today.

"When we get healthy we will be very good, but until then we have to fight through it," Washington Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said.