In a game crucial to their chances of making the WNBA playoffs, the Washington Mystics set a league record by missing their first 13 shots, fell behind by 16 points and stumbled to a 66-52 loss yesterday to the Detroit Shock in Auburn Hills, Mich., their fifth defeat in a row.

The Shock (15-16) leads the Mystics (14-17) by one game for the fourth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth with three games left in the regular season. The Shock will get the berth if the teams finish tied.

Washington didn't get a point until Alana Beard's jumper 8 minutes 15 seconds into the game.

"They really jumped on us early," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said. "We tried to pound it inside and got nothing out of it. I thought we might have gotten hit one or two times, but the refs didn't agree. It's hard to complain, since we shot more free throws than they did, but I thought it really changed the start of the game."

"I'll take any good start -- we've had so few of them," Detroit Coach Bill Laimbeer said. "Part of it was we came out with good intensity and part of it was they just weren't making shots."

Deanna Nolan had 18 points and Swin Cash added 12 points for Detroit, which ended a two-game losing streak with its sixth straight home win. Cheryl Ford had 10 points and 11 rebounds and Katie Smith added 10 points.

Beard led Washington with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting. She was the only Mystics player in double figures as the other starters combined for 3-of-27 shooting.

"I thought Detroit played very good defense," Adubato said. "They picked up our picks and screens, and then, once we got behind, I think our players were just trying to do too much by themselves."

Detroit, winner of the 2003 WNBA title, could clinch a playoff berth tomorrow with a win over Charlotte and a Washington loss to New York.

* SPARKS 55, COMETS 50: Lisa Leslie had 19 points and 14 rebounds and Chamique Holdsclaw added 11 points to lead Los Angeles at home.

The Sparks (15-16) beat the Comets (17-15) for the third straight time this season and stayed a game behind fourth-place Phoenix in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

* MERCURY 83, LYNX 69: Diana Taurasi had 17 points and five rebounds, and Anna Deforge added 16 points to lead Phoenix at home.

Reserve Sandora Irvin had 13 points and six rebounds for the Mercury (16-15). The Lynx fell to 14-18.

Detroit's Kara Braxton, left, battles for a loose ball with Washington's Murriel Page. The Mystics fell behind by 16 points early and never recovered.