The Washington Mystics were minutes away from winning a crucial road game over an Eastern Conference rival on July 29 when things suddenly went wrong. A couple of scoreless possessions, a few questionable calls and some clutch free throw shooting down the stretch by the Indiana Fever led to a 62-58 loss and made for a frustrating flight home for the Mystics.
Tonight, in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN2, the Mystics will attempt to repay the favor. Washington (13-12) is third in the tightly packed Eastern Conference standings. Indiana (15-10), which lost to first-place Connecticut Saturday night, is second.
Indiana has a cushion over the Mystics but the teams have split two meetings this season. Washington pulled out an 88-78 double-overtime win on June 18 at MCI Center. The teams will play once more, on Aug. 18 at Indiana.
"We almost had them over there at their place and we got the overtime game here," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said. "But this one is really big because we're at home and because of our schedule down the stretch. It's absolutely critical that we win these games at home."
Following tonight's game, the Mystics host Connecticut on Thursday before embarking on a four-game road trip that will include stops at Connecticut, New York, Indiana and Detroit. Apart from Connecticut (20-6), which has all but wrapped up first place, all of those teams are jostling for playoff position.
Because only the top four teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs, any mishaps by the Mystics would open the door for New York (13-12) and/or Detroit (10-14) to slip past them in the standings and possibly push them out of the playoff picture.
The Mystics almost hurt their own cause Tuesday when last-place Charlotte came into MCI Center and nearly pulled off an upset. The Mystics overcame shaky offensive execution and a few missed free throws for a 65-63 win.
"I just couldn't wait for the buzzer to stop," said veteran guard Coco Miller, who turned in one of her best performances of the season, scoring 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
Like the Mystics, Indiana has had a tough time stringing together a series of strong performances. In its last four games, the Fever lost to Connecticut, beat Washington, lost at New York and beat defending league champion Seattle. One key to beating Indiana is finding a way to handle three-time all-star forward Tamika Catchings, who scored 22 points in the July 29 win over the Mystics. Catchings is averaging 14.9 points and eight rebounds per game and leads the league in steals (2.9 per game) and free throw attempts (154).
The game also will feature two of the leading candidates for the WNBA's rookie of the year award: Washington point guard Temeka Johnson and Indiana guard Tan White.
Mystics Note: Tonight's game will be the final appearance for the Mystics on ESPN2 this season. The Aug. 14 game at Connecticut and the Aug. 16 game at New York will be televised by Comcast SportsNet. Games at Indiana (Aug. 18), at Detroit (Aug. 21) and against New York (Aug. 23) will air on NBA TV.