It probably isn't surprising that the Washington Mystics have had a slow start this season. They have a new coach, several new players and their top returning scorer has yet to play in a game.

In an ideal scenario, the Mystics would have had more time to become familiar with each other and Coach Richie Adubato's system. But in the compact WNBA season, teams must fuse quickly or risk falling too far behind in the standings.

The Mystics (1-3) have lost three straight -- all at home -- after winning their season opener on the road. A win tonight against Minnesota (1-2) at MCI Center would get them headed in the right direction.

"You've got a new coach and you've got basically a new team," center Chasity Melvin said. "So players have to learn each other. Unfortunately for us, in the WNBA, we don't have a long preseason. It's not an NBA season. It's difficult because when you struggle it can really hurt you."

A lack of cohesion has contributed to Washington's skid, but perhaps more significant has been Alana Beard's absence. Beard, who has been sidelined by an ankle sprain, averaged 13.1 points per game last season and played a big role in leading the Mystics to the playoffs. Without her on the court, Washington has lacked a dominant scorer.

"Not anything against the other players, but we definitely need A.B. back," Melvin said. "As soon as she comes back in the lineup, I think everything's going to be fine."

Beard said she went through about 90 percent of yesterday's practice and declared she was "mentally ready." She expects to play tonight.

"She's the type of athlete that can make all the mistakes not seem so big," Melvin said. "I don't think A.B. is going to come back and all of a sudden we're going to gel together. She'll make up for [the Mystics' mistakes]. She's a tremendous athlete. Nobody can stop her. When we have breakdowns with execution, we can use her. She can make great defensive plays by herself."

The Mystics won't know the status of their other injured player, DeLisha Milton-Jones who sat out Wednesday's game against New York with a knee injury, until game time. They are optimistic she will play.

Adubato doesn't appear concerned yet by the Mystics' early swoon.

"I'm just going to keep working and trying to get the execution we need," he said.

Asked if he felt the team was close to a breakthrough, Adubato said: "I would feel close with those people [Beard and Milton-Jones] in the lineup for a couple games. I'm hoping we can squeeze out wins while they're getting adjusted."

Mystics' Alana Beard, who has been sidelined by an ankle sprain, could play in her first game of the season tonight.