The schedule makers have no idea what a favor they did the Washington Mystics by giving them six days between games in the middle of June. Washington put the time off to good use and is reaping the rewards.

The Mystics (6-6), who are at .500 for the first time since they were 1-1 on May 22, have won three in a row and four of their last five heading into today's game against the Western Conference-leading Sacramento Monarchs (8-3).

"The break in the schedule a week ago helped us . . . to get our continuity, to get our defense together," Washington Coach Richie Adubato said. "Our offensive execution is way better than it was. . . . The big thing is we've got a pretty good rotation now. They're starting to feel more familiar with each other's games, and that takes a little time. We're still not there, but if we didn't have the break in the schedule I don't think we could have been able to get to where we are."

Washington's lack of cohesiveness at the start of the season was evident. The Mystics struggled early, losing five of their first seven games. But after four days of 31/2-hour practices during that week off, the players have begun to develop an intuitiveness with one another.

"We're just basically getting to know each other better and getting to know each other's tendencies better," Chasity Melvin said. "The main thing is the chemistry . . . but we're executing our plays better. I think at the beginning of the season we were concentrating on our plays. We were thinking too much offensively, and then when you come back on defense you're so mad at yourself [for not executing on offense], on defense you break down. You're letting everybody else get shots. Now we're executing better on offense and it's carrying over on defense."

Washington has done a better job defensively during its win streak. In their last four wins, the Mystics have forced their opponents to shoot under 40 percent. Only once did they accomplish that feat in their first seven games.

"We're just carrying out our assignments better," Adubato said. "Our weak-side defense is better, and we're rebounding better."

While Washington is improving on defense, Sacramento has the stingiest defense in the WNBA. The Monarchs hold their opponents to league lows in points (62.8 per game) and field goal percentage (38). They average 8.7 steals and force 17.8 turnovers per game.

Two Sacramento players with local ties should play significant minutes against the Mystics. Kara Lawson (West Springfield) returned to the lineup on June 13 after missing seven games with a sprained left ankle. Rebekkah Brunson (Oxon Hill, Georgetown) made her first start of the season on Friday in Sacramento's 61-50 loss to Connecticut.

Sacramento forward Rebekkah Brunson, left, swipes the ball from Los Angeles center Lisa Leslie on June 4. The Monarchs boast the WNBA's stingiest defense.