Today, for the first time in nearly a month, DeLisha Milton-Jones and her Mystics teammates will drive themselves to MCI Center, dress inside a cozy home locker room and play in front of fans who actually want to see them do well.
"It's been awhile," Milton-Jones said. "I think we're all going to enjoy getting a chance to play at home for a change."
Today's game against the Houston Comets marks the first home game for the Mystics since July 7, when the Detroit Shock pushed and shoved its way to a 76-62 win over Washington. The Mystics' longest road trip of the season, a five-game swing, began with a win at defending WNBA champion Seattle on July 13 and concluded Thursday with a win at Houston.
The Mystics met Coach Richie Adubato's goal by going 3-2 on the trip. The Mystics are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with an 11-10 record, 21/2 games ahead of fifth-place Detroit. Since the top four teams in each conference make the playoffs, the Mystics are in a solid position as they prepare for the final 13 games of the season.
"I'll gladly take 3-2 on that trip because of the schedule and because of who we played," Adubato said. "We needed to win at least three just to put ourselves in a position to make a run here down the stretch. The important thing for us now is to win these home games because we lost some home games early and that put us in a little bit of a hole."
Four of the next five games will be at MCI Center, where the Mystics are 5-5 this season. If the Mystics can play well at home, they will be in good position to chase the teams ahead of them in the standings. Washington has two games remaining against third-place New York, three against second-place Indiana and three against first-place Connecticut.
"People have kind of been sleeping on us so we've been kind of slowly creeping up on everybody, opening up eyes around the league," said Milton-Jones, who averaged 13.8 points per game on the road trip. "I think we shocked a lot of people on that road trip. I don't think many people thought we could go out there and beat some of those teams. But I hope they keep sleeping on us so we can slip up on them and be conference champs. They are going to be like, 'Where did this team come from?' "
The Mystics can kick-start their playoff push by finding a way to beat Houston for the second time in a week. On Thursday, the Mystics raced to an early lead and held on for a 70-65 victory, the franchise's first win at Houston. The Comets (12-9) lost again Saturday against Los Angeles and are struggling to mesh former all-star Tina Thompson back into a lineup that includes All-Star Game most valuable player Sheryl Swoopes and all-star forward Michelle Snow.
Thompson, who played for the first time this season against Washington, had been on maternity leave and hadn't played in 10 months. Following the losses to Washington and Los Angeles, Houston Coach Van Chancellor was critical of his team's ball movement. Swoopes, who ranks second in the WNBA in scoring (18.4 points per game), showed some frustration when she engaged in a shoving match with Los Angeles star Lisa Leslie late in Saturday's loss.
While the Comets are looking to reestablish the rhythm they had going during a six-game winning streak earlier this season, the Mystics are fighting a few minor injuries. Milton-Jones has been hampered by a sore knee and leading scorer Alana Beard tweaked an already tender ankle during practice yesterday.
Adubato has cautioned his team about getting overly comfortable with the familiar trappings of life at home.
"My biggest concern is understanding that players sometimes have that tendency to think that because we won on the road, now you are going to win automatically at home," Adubato said. "We won on the road, now we're coming home and everything is going to be okay. It doesn't work that way, so we have to be careful about that. These home games are going to be very important for us. We're going to have to come out and play very well to beat these teams."