A July 13 Sports article misstated the result of the June 10 WNBA game between the Washington Mystics and the Seattle Storm. The Mystics defeated the Storm, 64-52. (Published 7/14/2005)

The Washington Mystics' Alana Beard was still giddy over having just played in her first all-star game last Saturday night when a reporter raised the subject of her team's upcoming five-game Western Conference road trip.

Beard's smile faded and she momentarily turned serious.

"It's going to be tough," Beard said. "It will say a lot about where we are as a team. It will say a lot about where we end up this season. This is a big trip, no doubt."

The Mystics are 8-8 and tied with Detroit for fourth place in the WNBA's Eastern Conference standings.

First-place Connecticut (12-3) has shown no signs of falling back into the pack, and Indiana sits in second place with an 8-6 record. So the race for the final three Eastern Conference playoff spots could go down to the final games of the season.

If the Mystics want to get back to the postseason for the second year in a row, it is imperative that they play well on this trip.

It begins tonight in Seattle, where the Mystics face the defending champion Storm, and includes stops at Phoenix, first-place Sacramento, Los Angeles -- where the Mystics have never beaten the Sparks -- and Houston, which had won six straight before losing at New York last night.

Coach Richie Adubato's goal for the trip is simple: win in Seattle.

"Experience tells you that the most important game of any trip like this is the first one," Adubato said. "You have to get that first one because it builds confidence and gives you some momentum going into the rest of the trip. Then, if we can play some good basketball, and for us that means clamp down on defense and hit our open shots, we can have a successful trip."

A "successful trip" likely means winning three out of the five games, although Beard has set a higher goal.

"I want four out of five," she said. "That would put us in great shape for the rest of the season."

The good news for the Mystics is that Seattle does not resemble the team that won it all last summer. The Storm is 8-9 and trails first-place Sacramento by 31/2 games in the Western Conference.

However, Seattle beat the Mystics 64-52 at MCI Center on June 10 and did it without all-star point guard Sue Bird, who was recovering from a broken nose and cheekbone.

Bird returned June 22 against Phoenix, but the Storm still lost five of six heading into the break.

One key for the Mystics throughout the trip, and throughout the final 18 games of the regular season, will be rebounding. They were outrebounded 44-24 in an ugly 76-62 loss to Detroit on July 7, and Washington is being outrebounded by an average of four per game.

"We've had too many possessions where we've played good defense, where we forced them to take a shot we want them to take and then we allowed them to grab a rebound and get a second shot," Adubato said. "That just kills you defensively. We have to fix that."