Mystics 61, Fever 60

There is a chance that the Washington Mystics and Indiana Fever will meet in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. In terms of pure entertainment, such a matchup would not be a bad thing. The Mystics and Fever met for the third time last night in a nationally televised game at MCI Center and the result was typical.

Thanks to the playmaking of guards Alana Beard and Coco Miller and clutch free throw shooting by forward DeLisha Milton-Jones and center Chasity Melvin, the Mystics overcame a rough start and pulled out a 61-60 victory in front of a crowd of 8,794.

The victory gave Washington (14-12) sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference, one game behind second-place Indiana (15-11) and one game ahead of fourth-place New York (13-13), which lost to Detroit last night. The victory also moved the Mystics two games above .500 for the first time this season.

The final moments of last night's game were familiar to anyone who witnessed the first two meetings between the teams. Washington won the first, 88-78, in double overtime on June 18 at MCI Center and was in position to win at Indiana on July 29 before falling, 62-58. The difference last night was that the Mystics came up with the big plays down the stretch.

Milton-Jones drew a foul on Tully Bevilaqua and made a pair of free throws to give Washington a 59-57 lead with 7.3 seconds remaining. Indiana inbounded the ball at midcourt and all-star Tamika Catchings broke open in front of the Washington bench. Catchings had a decent look at a 10-foot baseline jump shot but appeared to rush it and the ball missed the rim.

Indiana guard Kelly Miller -- the twin sister of Mystics guard Coco Miller -- had a chance to grab the ball but instead tried to tap it toward the rim. The shot glanced off the backboard. Washington inbounded the ball and Melvin hit a pair of free throws to put the game away.

Beard bounced back from a rough shooting performance in Tuesday's win over Charlotte and led the Mystics with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Milton-Jones added 11 points. Coco Miller finished with eight points and came up with two big baskets down the stretch, including a tough floating jump shot in the lane that gave Washington a 57-55 lead.

Kelly Miller led the Fever with 16 points.

Despite falling behind 10-0 and 13-2 in the first half, the Mystics shot 50 percent from the field and were able to overcome the prolonged absence of point guard and leading rookie-of-the-year candidate Temeka Johnson, who played only 17 minutes. Johnson did not practice all week because she was out of town mourning the death of former LSU coach Sue Gunter. Johnson, who starred at LSU under the legendary coach, was especially close to Gunter and sometimes played with Gunter's initials on her sneakers this season.

"It's been a really tough time for Temeka," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said. "She tried to go, but it was obvious that she really was not herself. We're just trying to support her as she goes through a real emotional time."

The Mystics will host first-place Connecticut on Thursday night and then embark on a four-game road trip to Connecticut, New York, Indiana and Detroit. Washington then closes out the regular season with home games against New York and Detroit sandwiched around another visit to Connecticut.

* SHOCK 72, LIBERTY 67: Deanna Nolan scored 20 points and Swin Cash had season highs of 11 points and 12 rebounds to lead host Detroit.

The Shock, which lost by one at Houston and in double overtime at Charlotte in its last two games, beat the Liberty for the third time in four meetings this season.

* LYNX 76, SPARKS 72: Kristi Harrower had a season-high 15 points for Minnesota, which snapped its five-game losing streak with a win at home.

Svetlana Abrosimova added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Lynx, which led by 20 points at halftime.

* MONARCHS 55, COMETS 45: Reserve guard Kara Lawson (West Springfield) scored 13 points, and Sacramento beat visiting Houston, holding the Comets to their second-lowest point total in franchise history.

The Comets scored 38 points in an 18-point loss at Phoenix on Aug. 14, 2001.

Sheryl Swoopes and Janeth Arcain each had 10 points for Houston, which shot 32.1 percent for the game and had 22 turnovers.

The Mystics' Murriel Page (5 points, 3 rebounds) goes up for the ball against the Fever's Tan White, right, and Kelly Schumacher at MCI Center.