For the Washington Mystics, an up-and-down 2005 season could boil down to this: Win today at Detroit or forget about qualifying for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Mystics (14-16) are on a season-long four-game losing streak and need a win over the Shock (14-16) to move into fourth place. Detroit holds a tiebreaker over the Mystics based on a better conference record.
A loss today would drop the Mystics a full game behind Detroit in the race for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East with three games remaining. The Mystics will host New York on Tuesday, play at Connecticut on Friday and finish the season at home against Detroit on Saturday. A Washington win today would put Detroit in a tough situation, because the Shock still has games remaining at Charlotte and at home against second-place Indiana before the season finale in Washington.
"We've been through a tough situation with these road games against very good teams, but here we are, tied up coming into the final week," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said. "It should be an exciting last week for the fans and I know our players are looking forward to it."
The Mystics and Shock should just be thankful that the WNBA allows four teams into the postseason in each conference because neither team has been playing playoff-quality basketball of late. Washington's skid has come at a very bad time and has erased the momentum created by the team's solid West Coast trip in July.
Even worse, the slide has included losses to Washington's Eastern Conference rivals and wiped out an opportunity to earn a better playoff seeding. Two losses to first-place Connecticut and road losses to New York and Indiana have put the Mystics in a position where they must go into Detroit and win.
That the star-studded Shock is in a similar position is a surprise. Despite playing with a lineup that features five all-stars -- Katie Smith, Cheryl Ford, Ruth Riley, Swin Cash and Deanna Nolan -- Bill Laimbeer's team has not been able to perform with any consistency this season.
After recently winning four straight, Detroit went on the road and suffered losses at Phoenix and Los Angeles. The Mystics and Shock have split a pair of meetings this season, with each team winning on the other's court. Washington hasn't faced Detroit since the Shock acquired Smith in a trade with Minnesota on July 30. Smith scored a season-high 27 points against the Mystics on June 11 when she was still playing with Minnesota, and Detroit is 5-0 at home since Smith arrived.
The key for the Mystics will be rebounding. Detroit is the WNBA's top rebounding team and posted a 44-24 advantage in a 76-62 win over the Mystics at MCI Center on July 7. Ford accounted for 18 rebounds.
"That's where it all starts for us because they will pound the boards and create second shots for themselves," Adubato said. "That has killed us at times this season. Our bigs have to box out and match up with them for us to have a chance."