Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wrapping Up . . .

As the WNBA playoffs continue on around us -- and without us --and with a little bit of time having elapsed since the end of the Mystics’ own season, we wanted to post a few closing thoughts on this season as well as a few thoughts on what’s in store for the future.

The BasketCases have been Mystics season ticketholders since the inception of the franchise in 1998. And although the Mystics (thankfully) have never had a worse record than they did in that inaugural season (an egregious 3-27!), to us, last season (the season of 2008, not 1998) was the most dismal and most unenjoyable in franchise history. There’s no need to repeat all the reasons why; if you are reading this, you probably lived through it. While the Atlanta Dream finished the 2008 season with the worst record in the league, by the end of last season, Washington was playing the worst basketball in the WNBA.

The good news, of course, is that Sheila Johnson and Greg Bibb did exactly what was needed to begin the process of turning this franchise around. They brought in new GM Angela Taylor and she, in turn, brought in a top-notch coaching staff headed by Julie Plank.

And then the player personnel moves began. The Mystics made a hugely important trade to acquire Lindsey Harding, giving the team a much-needed All-Star-caliber point guard. The significance of adding Lindsey to the Mystics simply cannot be overstated. And while the demise of the Comets was terribly unfortunate, it did bring Matee Ajavon to D.C., another off-season plus. And, of course, the Mystics selected Marissa Coleman in the college draft. Although Marissa’s injury and the slump that followed her return to action were disappointing, Marissa showed in the early going that she has the skills to come back a much-improved player after a winter in Europe.

And speaking of much-improved players, in addition to Lindsey’s leadership at the point, the biggest on-court contribution to the Mystics’ change of direction this season was unquestionably the “new and improved” Crystal Langhorne. Lang came back from her own first season in Europe having added new dimensions to her already solid game (including a jump shot that makes us hold our breath every time we see her take it . . . because we never saw her do that in college!). Lang was appropriately recognized for her hard work with the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Award.

While our readers know the BasketCases were big fans of the Mystics’ new "Brain Trust" from the beginning, you also know we didn't believe a team as dreadful as the 2008 Mystics could be turned around in one off season. To be honest, we didn't think making the playoffs this summer would be very likely; the fact that the Mystics got that far is an incredible testament to just how much Angela and Julie and all the coaches -- and of course the players -- have accomplished.

But Angela and Julie would be the first to tell you (as Angela did in her blog today) that they weren't just satisfied with simply making the playoffs. They are looking to build a team that can compete successfully -- and repeatedly -- for a championship.

Of course, it's no secret to fans (and to our readers) who've watched the Mystics all season that there are still positions that need shoring up, most notably the Center. And Washington's energizer bunny, Lindsey Harding, who played more minutes than almost anyone else in the league, needs a reliable backup.

It’s not easy for a team to acquire the personnel it needs. We’ve read so many comments on message boards telling the Mystics that they need to get a good Center. As if the Mystics haven’t figured that out! The hard part is making it happen. Unfortunately, Angela can't simply head over to her favorite grocery store, Harris Teeter, and pick a great new Center off the shelf. She also can't make another team trade with her, nor unilaterally force a free agent to sign. And that goes not only for the Center position, but for any other slot the Mystics may be looking to upgrade.

There’s no question that Angela and Julie have their work cut out for them as they seek to take the Mystics to the next level. The good news is that we are convinced that they really know what they are doing, and that the franchise, finally, is headed in the right direction. So the BasketCases can relax this off-season -- turn our attention to our favorite college team, the Terps -- and let Angela and Julie do all the work. We're already looking forward to seeing what excitement the 2010 season holds for us -- and the growing legion of Mystics fans!

Have you renewed your seats for 2010 yet? We have. What are you waiting for?

* * * * * * * * *
Speaking of turning our attention to the Terps . . . More from the Baltimore Sun's Matt Bracken about Coach B's latest (and exciting!) 2010 "verbal" Alicia DeVaughn here and here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

And More "Welcome" News . . .

Tonight, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that 6'4" (athletic and versatile!) Center Alicia DeVaughn has given Coach Brenda Frese her verbal commitment to join the Maryland basketball family beginning with the 2010 academic year.

Alicia, a senior at Ely High in Broward County, is an All-State selection from Florida. She was nationally-ranked and highly sought after by many major programs. Her choice of Maryland is yet another boost to Coach B's already outstanding incoming class of 2010.

The Sentinel's Christy Cabrera Chirinos tells us that
Saturday night while on a visit to Maryland, she [Alicia] gave the Terrapins a verbal commitment."I just really loved it up there and you could see they were definitely a family," DeVaughn said. "They were more together and you could see the players really love basketball and coach [Brenda] Frese."
We're happy that Alicia has found a program that she "loves". . . and as fans, we're happy that program just happens to be Maryland!

Welcome -- and congratulations -- Alicia! We can't wait to see you suit up for the Terps next season!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bienvenue, Diandra!

Well, the rumors must be true. Young French phenom Diandra Tchatchouang is now listed on the Terps' official 2009-10 roster.

Diandra's resume includes being MVP of the 2007 U16 European Championship, a tournament in which she helped France's U16 National Team dethrone Spain for the first time in several years. In 2008, her French team failed to repeat as champions . . . but not due to any lack of effort by Diandra! In her final game of the Championship tournament against the Czech Republic, she posted a game high 27 points (of her team's 61 total points), plus 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal.

Bringing this 6'3" wing player with such success in international play to College Park is a very big plus for Coach B and the Maryland program.

Welcome and bon chance, Diandra!

* * * * * * *

Friday AM Extra . . . Yesterday Matt Bracken's Baltimore Sun Recruiting Report gave us an up close and personal look at 2010-11 incoming shooting guard Natasha Cloud. No surprise . . . her favorite player? Kristi Toliver! Most surprising fact we learned . . . her role model? Gina Carano, an MMA fighter! We like this young lady already. You can find the link to Matt's Report here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Welcome Additions!

USA Basketball announced today that 14 additional players have been invited to this fall's USA Women's National Team Training Camp, which will be held right here in DC at American University from September 30th to October 5th. The 14 "newcomers" will join the 8 players already selected for the 2009-12 National Team, and will be vying for roster spots on the 12-member USA National Team that will compete in the 2010 FIBA World Championship in the Czech Republic.

It should come as no surprise that among those 14 additions is the Mystics' very own Alana Beard. AB has trained and played with the Senior National Team before, so we were certainly expecting her to be named again. Congratulations, Alana!

But the BasketCases are also pleased to report that joining Alana in the USA Training Camp will be two other Mystics: Lindsey Harding and Crystal Langhorne! Congratulations, Lindsey! Congratulations, Lang! If you've been following our blog for a while, then you know that Crystal has an unblemished record of success in age-group USA Basketball international competition. Obviously, she and Lindsey have been identified as a couple of the talented younger players with great futures ahead of them. Whether they make the final roster this year or not, it's a great honor to be invited into this select company!

And we here in DC have the good fortune of actually being able to see all these players in action (well, at least the ones who are not injured or preoccupied playing in the WNBA finals). On Sunday, October 4th, at noon at American University, the National Team will host a "Fall Showcase" that includes "team drills, an intrasquad scrimmage, a question and answer session with [Coach Geno] Auriemma and a post-practice autograph session with selected players." Tickets are only $5.00! Instructions for purchasing tickets can be found on the AU Women's Basketball web site, here. (We already have ours!)

Congratulations again to AB, Lindsey, and Lang on this well-deserved opportunity and honor!

Photo Credit: DC BasketCases

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mystics vs the Dinos

As most of our loyal readers already know, the Mystics were bounced, not only from the playoffs by consecutive losses to Indy, but -- even before that -- from their true home court by a bunch of large, small-brained, extinct creatures. The long-scheduled run of (international favorite) Walking With Dinosaurs had already grabbed all the available playoff dates at the Phone Booth for its psuedo-educational time travel extravaganza from the Triassic through the Jurassic to the Cretaceous.

So the Mystics, instead of playing their first round game at the Phone Booth, were sent to the friendly and professional-quality Comcast Center at the University of Maryland. The BasketCases love that arena, but we (like most Mystics fans) would have been happier if the first game of the playoffs had been held at Verizon Center.

The BasketCases therefore decided -- since the Dinos stole the Mystics' home court -- that it was incumbent on us (as the officially un-official Mystics bloggers) to check out -- and rate -- the competition. So we headed over to the Verizon Center this evening to take in the Dinos' final Washington performance, and here's our analysis of how the Mystics stack up against the competition . . .

Affordability. The BCs opted for center-section Club level seats for the Dinos. Cost: approximately $50 per ticket. Same seats for the Mystics: $30 (for STHs only $20!) Advantage Mystics.

Quantity of Entertainment.
The Dino show consisted of a 30-minute "first half," a 25- minute intermission, and a "second half" approximately 40 minutes long. (Total: 1 hr & 35 minutes.) An average Mystics game from introductions to final buzzer is approximately 2 hrs & 15 minutes of non-stop action and excitement. Plus, single or double (who can forget that Connecticut game!) overtimes are no extra charge. Advantage Mystics.

Lighting & Special Effects. Well, we have to admit, the Dinos did a pretty good job in this category. Lots of special lighting; video effects; colorful growing foliage; smoke; and roving continents courtesy of plate tectonics.. The Mystics' video intro is cool . . . but, Advantage Dinos.

The Players. The Dinos roster featured some BIG and LOUD performers. But hey, the BasketCases are long-time Mystics fans. As for "BIG" . . . duh, remember Tree Rollins? And how 'bout Shock Coach Rick Mahorn? As for Big and Loud . . . who can forget Bill Laimbeer? Now the Dinos also had a few really quick players in their line-up, mostly Raptors. But quicker than Lindsey and Mattee? No way! So, to be fair, we'll have to call this one a tie. Advantage: Neither. (1/2 point to each team.)

Fan Participation. Except for the plethora of families with young children who (naturally) chatted excitedly and throughout the performance, the Dino crowd was pretty sedentary. Even the dramatic conclusion (when a comet wiped out the Dinosaurs and most of life on Earth) didn't elicit much in the way of fan reaction. We kept waiting for the fans to jump out of their seats, or start a wave, but alas, it never happened. At Mystics games, standing, clapping, dancing, spontaneous leaping from one's seat is de riguer. Advantage (by a mile) Mystics.

Half-time Entertainment. Dinos, none. So the Mystics win this one by default. Advantage Mystics.

Fan Give-aways.
Well, the Dinos charged $20 for a program. The Mystics charge $0. Throughout their games, the Mystics provide selected fans the opportunity to win gas cards, fruit arrangements, gift-bags . . . not to mention they throw burritos into the stands. The Dinos gave away nothing. Another easy call: Advantage Mystics.

Educational Value. While the Dino show, with its own actor/paleontologist-imitator, purports to teach us about pre-historic life on Earth, the BasketCases would bet that if the attendees were quizzed after the performance, few, if any, would be able to tell you much about the Mesozoic Era. (We were all too busy waiting for the next Dino to make an appearance to pay much attention!) On the other hand, while the Mystics don't lecture or instruct, it's hard to be a fan for long -- particularly a young one -- without taking away a few life-lessons: that young women can accomplish great things; that hard work pays dividends; that even losing can make one stronger; that competition is part of being a professional . . . etc, etc, etc. Which, in truth, is more educational? No question in the BasketCases' minds: Advantage Mystics.

Final Score: Mystics 6-1/2, Dinos 1-1/2. In terms of entertainment bang-for-your-buck, it's hard to beat the Mystics and the WNBA. Long live the Mystics! Dinos . . . you're extinct for a reason!

Photo Credit (and dis-credit): DC BasketCases (via cell phone)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Foul Mood

The Mystics' season ended tonight in Indianapolis, as the Fever prevailed in overtime, 81-74, to sweep Washington in the first round of the WNBA playoffs.

It was quite a Mystics season . . . one that gave us -- the fans -- a great deal of fun and excitement. It was one that we believe the team should be proud of. (We're proud of them!) We just wish it hadn't ended the way it did.

On Thursday, the youngest of the 8 WNBA teams in the playoffs -- the Mystics -- outplayed the #1 seed -- one of the most playoff-tested teams in the league -- for 36 minutes, but lost. Tonight, that same young team fell behind early, only to fight back and lead the Conference's top team for nearly three-quarters of the game, until Indy tied the score at the foul line with under 3 seconds left in regulation. But the Mystics still lost, this time in OT.

The worst thing about this loss -- for us -- wasn't that it ended the season or knocked the Mystics out of the playoffs. The worst thing is how we were left with the feeling that the game was handed to Indiana at the free throw line. As usual, Tamika Catchings got just about every call and, especially, just about every no call. Eleven of her game-high 24 points came from the foul line. Meanwhile, the Mystics' frontcourt players (and others) were called time and again for just about every real or perceived infraction. By the end of regulation, both Nakia and Chas had fouled out. In the overtime period, Lang and Kristen Mann were the only Mystics players left to do battle in the paint.

The Mystics scored 59 points from the field and 15 (of 20) from the line. Indiana scored 49 points from the field and 32 (of 38) from the line. Now, Washington isn't perfect; players do commit fouls. But, are the Mystics a rough, tough, physical team? (Ha! Would that they were!) We watched the game -- all of it -- on NBA TV. The aggressive, physical play looked more like it belonged to Indiana than to Washington. So we were left to wonder, how could the Fever have gotten to the free thow line nearly twice as many times as the Mystics did? We're still shaking our heads.

Crystal Langhorne finished her sophomore season with a Most Improved Player Award and another double-double (15 points & 10 boards). Alana and Lindsey each added 10. The Mystics missed some opportunties in the closing minutes of regulation to put the game away. This was a winnable game. So yes, we're disappointed. But watching the steady stream of Indiana players march to the FT line left us feeling more than disappointed in the Mystics' late-game play. We were left with the feeling that there was something really wrong about this game. So not only do we end the night -- and the season -- disappointed, but also we end it in a really foul mood.

We'll have more to say about this Mystics season (when we're in a better mood), but for now, thank you, Mystics, for an amazing season! We are proud of you, and we're looking forward to next year!

Tie or Dye Die

At the end of the day, either the Mystics will be tied with Indy in their first-round playoff series, or the Mystics' hopes for advancing will have died and Washington's 2009 season will be over.

The BasketCases have had so much fun watching the Mystics this season that it's depressing even to contemplate the fact that it could all end tonight. But with the loss to Indy on Thursday in the first game of their best-of-three playoff series, it will all end tonight, unless the Mystics win to tie the series and force the rubber match on Monday.

As they demonstrated as recently as Thursday, the Fever are a formidable team, with a nearly unstoppable one-two punch of superstars Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas and an excellent supporting cast. But they aren't unbeatable!

Other teams have found a way to do it, and the Mystics nearly did it just two days ago. If Washington can maintain their focus and intensity for the full 40 minutes, they can pull off the upset. The BasketCases still believe it's possible, and we'll be watching and cheering loudly (in our basement) for the Mystics to get the job done tonight!

[P.S. L'shana Tovah to all! Here's hoping the New Year ushers in a new -- and happy -- day for the Mystics!]

Game 2 . . . Tie or Die, Go Mystics, Beat the Fever!

* * * * * * * *
Tonight's game, being played at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indy, tips off at 7 PM ET, and will be broadcast on NBA TV. If you don't have NBA TV, it might not be too late to call your cable or satellite TV provider right now and add this network to your subscription today!! Worth a try! (According to one message board poster yesterday, Comcast not only gave the poster same-day activation of NBA TV, but also a free, six-month trial of the network.) The WNBA's web site lists tonight's game on the Live Access menu, but Live Access has not always worked for everyone as promised. If you don't have NBA TV or can't get it or don't want to add it, you might want to think about rounding up some friends and trekking to a friendly sports bar for the evening.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Just 4 minutes. That's all it took for the Indiana Fever to wrest tonight's game from the Mystics' grasp.

For the first 30 minutes, the Mystics outplayed or stayed even with the Eastern Conference's #1 seed. Washington led by 4 at the half and 2 at the end of the 3rd. But those first 4 minutes of the 4th! Those are the minutes the Washington team, coaches and fans would like to forget.

The superstar duo of Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas scored the first 5 points of the final period, and before the Mystics knew what had hit them, that 2-point Washington lead turned into a 12-point deficit. After that it was all about playing catch-up.

The Mystics didn't quit, that's not in their nature. They fought back and closed the gap to just 3 points -- a single possession -- with a little less than 2 minutes left. But that's as close as Washington got. Those 4 crucial minutes to start the final quarter exacted their toll, as the Mystics lost the first game of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series to Indy, 79-88. Bummer.

On a night when she'd just been named the WNBA's Most Improved Player, Crystal Langhorne did not disappoint. A former Terp playing on her old college floor, Lang led the Mystics with 18 points, as well as 10 rebounds for another double-double. The only other Mystics starter in double figures was Lindsey Harding, with 11. (BTW, Lindsey posted her college career high at Comcast Center.) The Mystics' other former Terp, Marissa Coleman -- feeling at home -- notched 16 points off the bench. Plus Riss grabbed 8 boards and blocked 4 shots. Matee Ajavon also added 10 points off the bench, but that was it for the Mystics' double-digit scoring. And, as it turned out, it just wasn't quite enough.

Though Lang didn't disappoint, she was obviously very disappointed (as were all the Mystics) as she filed off the floor at the game's end. Crystal looked like she was on the verge of tears. This was a very very tough loss for Lang and for the entire Mystics team. They fought hard; they played tenacious defense for most of the game; they had a chance . . . a good chance, to pull off the game 1 upset. But in those 4 minutes, they let it slip away.

Now the Mystics are in the unenviable position of having to win two games in Indy in order to extend their season and advance in the playoffs. That's a tall order. Not saying it can't be done, but it's an uphill climb. Having one win banked before making the trip to Indiana would've been a whole lot better. But it didn't happen. Bummer.

* * * * * *
Now on a more positive note, the BasketCases want to thank Greg Bibb and everyone in the Mystics' front office for the incredible job they did moving tonight's game to the Comcast Center. It wasn't easy: arranging free shuttles from the Metro; ticketing STHs in an arena with seat arrangements different from those in the Phone Booth; making over a college floor for the pro game; transporting the scorers' table, not to mention the team and the Mayhem; plus a multitude of behind the scenes tasks that we can't even imagine. And if the "usual" details of such a big move were not enough, throw in the wrinkle of having Comcast Center unavailable for much of the day because the President decided to hold a rally there. Despite the challenges, the Mystics' staff made everyone feel as much at home at Comcast Center tonight as anyone possibly could. Thank you all for a job well done!

Who Let the Underdogs Out!

It's finally here! The Mystics' first post-season game since 2006!!!! You know the details: tonight, 7 PM, at Comcast Center, the 4th seeded-Mystics take on the top-seeded Indiana Fever, a team that swept Washington this season, 4-0.

If, like the BasketCases, you spend far too much some of your time reading WNBA message boards and following the "expert" prognosticators, it should come as no surprise that followers of women's basketball are predicting that Indy will prevail (most predicting a Fever sweep!) in this best-of-three playoff series. To say that the Mystics enter this round as underdogs is a major understatement.

So there's just one thing the Mystics need to do: show that these underdogs can bite!

Go Mystics! Beat the Fever!!

* * * * * * * *

Required reading . . . Both Katie Carrera in the Washington Post and Mike Fratto in the Washington Times are reporting BIG news this morning: Crystal Langhorne is expected to be named the WNBA's Most Improved Player tonight. This would be a well-deserved honor that comes as no surprise to those of us who have seen the added dimensions, consistency and solid performances from Lang this season. It's pretty obvious that Lang worked very hard in Europe this past winter to improve her game, and that hard work has paid off!

Thursday afternoon update: it's official, Lang is MIP!!!!!!

Congratulations, Crystal!

Other pre-game reading . . Katie has a pre-game story in the Post, here; Mike writes about new Mystics "catalyst" Lindsey Harding in the Times, here; and David Woods in the Indianapolis Star focuses (not surprisingly) on Katie Douglas's addition to the Fever, here.

Langhorne Photo Credit: DC BasketCases

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Fan's Guide to the Comcast Center

We know that for many Mystics fans, this Thursday will be their first time attending a game at the Comcast Center. But for many others (especially the BasketCases), Comcast is a home away from home during the college basketball season. For us, it's a place where we've spent countless exciting and fun-filled hours watching the University of Maryland Women's Basketball Team (Go Terps!). So to have our beloved Mystics -- in the postseason -- playing at the home of our beloved Terps is pure BasketCases nirvana!

Like all fans, we'll be spending most of our visit with our eyes glued to the court during the playoff game. But before and after the game, and during halftime, there's plenty more for fans to see at this great arena. If you're a first-timer to Comcast (unlike President Obama, who will be making his second visit Thursday morning), be sure you don't miss any of the women's basketball history on display around this beautiful facility. (Coincidentally, many of these "historical items" relate to the Terps' 2006 NCAA National Championship.) So for newbies, here's a BasketCases' "must see" checklist:

The Wall Mural. If you're able to take a peek inside the tunnel leading to the locker rooms, you can't miss this subtle reminder to every visiting team that enters and exits the tunnel that they are playing on the home court of a National Champion.

On a Mystics team of only eleven players, astonishingly four of those eleven played in that 2006 National Championship final. (Of course, only two have fond memories of that game.) And interestingly, a total of six of the eleven Mystics have actually played games at Comcast Center. Five are obvious (Lang, Marissa, AB, Mo & Lindsey -- all of whom have had great games on this court) . . . but can you name the sixth? (The answer is here (no peeking unless you need to!)) So while the Mystics won't be playing their first playoff game on their true home court, Comcast Center is as close to a second home as this ACC-rich Mystics team can get!

The Orbitz Trophy. Every year the winner of the National Championship is awarded an impressive cut-glass reminder of their accomplishment -- the Orbitz Trophy. The University of Maryland actually has two huge Championship trophies on display, one belonging to the Gentlemen Terps (near the front entrance), from 2002, and the don't-miss-one commemorating the 2006 Championship in a custom-designed kiosk in the center of the main concourse. The display also includes photos from the game and even a push button recording of one of the most exciting moments from that NCAA final! (Don't forget your camera in case you want to have your picture taken standing next to the trophy.)

For the record, though, as lovely as the Orbitz Trophy is, it's not the official National Championship Trophy. Nope, the actual Natty awarded by the NCAA to the winning team is that large vertical block of wood you see the players holding in all the post-game photos. The Terps have one from 2006, of course (plus a spare). In fact, there's actually a stand for it in the display case just off the main concourse at Comcast, among the displays of many other Maryland sports trophies. But in the 3 years since the Terps won the Natty, the BasketCases have never seen it on display. We have seen it many times in photos taken in Coach Frese's office. (And there's an unconfirmed -- but reliable -- report it's been spotted sticking out of Coach B's diaper bag.)

The Final Floor. We confess, this is the BasketCases' all-time favorite item of basketball memorabilia! So cool! If you enter Comcast Center on the ground floor, or take the elevator down to the lower level, you'll find the center circle of the actual basketball court from the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston (the former Fleet Center) on which the 2006 Final Four (including the National Championship game) was played. (Or, as we like to call it, the Final Floor.) That's right, Maryland bought the hardwood, and had it shipped down to College Park for permanent enshrinement. You can check out Crystal Langhorne's scuff marks. (Or maybe they're Mo Currie's, we aren't exactly sure. And it's probably not a good idea to ask her, just before the tipoff of the Mystics' playoff game.) You can also see the Final Floor by looking over the railing on the main concourse, but there's nothing like going downstairs and actually touching the real thing. (Another photo op, naturally.)

The Banners. Once in the arena itself, be sure to look skyward. There are quite a few banners hanging from the rafters, including a few that Mystics fans won't want to miss:

Crystal Langhorne. Fittingly for a player who broke so many University records, Lang's jersey was honored at the end of her senior season. As you can see, Lang still wears the same number for the Mystics that she wore with so much success for four years playing for the Terps.

Marissa Coleman (and a little-used Chicago Sky rookie). At the end of Marissa's senior season, her jersey was also honored, along with that of her classmate and teammate, Kristi Toliver. Since Mo Currie had already laid claim to the Mystics' #25, Marissa chose to wear #4 for her WNBA career.

Vicky Bullett. Mystics Assistant Coach -- and Maryland legend -- Vicky Bullett never played at Comcast, but her banner found a new home there when the Terps' basketball teams relocated from Cole Fieldhouse to the new arena in 2002. The BasketCases are embarrassed to admit that we couldn't find a photo of Vicky's banner . . . but we assure you her number's hanging there in the rarified air along with the others. (We'll be bringing our camera on Thursday and we promise to rectify this omission ASAP!)

The Championship Banner. And finally, for Terps fans, of course, the banner of all banners, the one that represents the greatest NCAA team achievement of all.

When Angela Taylor was named the Mystics GM last fall, she set about to build a team around players who are winners. It's pretty clear what a great job she's doing. And we hope that, on Thursday, all the winningness on display at Comcast Center will be an inspiration to everyone on the Mystics roster . . . and help lead the team to a BIG win.

The BasketCases plan to do something that day we never thought we'd do at the Comcast Center in our lifetimes . . . cheer loudly and enthusiastically for Dukies! (OMG, was that a pig that just flew past our window?) We will! On Thursday, there will be no Terps, no Dukies, no Wolfpack, no whatever . . . just Mystics! On Thursday, ACC rivalries at Comcast Center will be put on hold. Only one thing will matter . . . a first round win for Washington!

Go Mystics, Beat the Fever!

* * * * * * * *

Please help the Mystics turn Comcast into Verizon North . . . whatever it takes, don't miss this game! If you haven't gotten your tickets yet, call your ticket rep now or go to Ticketmaster.com. There's plenty of parking at Comcast, and a free shuttle if you are arriving by Metro. No excuses! See you there!

* * * * * * * *

Parking Update: The BasketCases just received our tickets from the Mystics for Thursday's game, along with a letter stating that "the University of Maryland will be charging $10 for parking." Ugh. But then again, the State of Maryland is in a serious fiscal crisis.

Photo Credits: top: University of Maryland; all others: DC BasketCases

Saturday, September 12, 2009

WE'RE IN!!!!!!!!!!

We're going to the playoffs!! Comcast Center here we come!!! [Thursday at 7 PM]

To keep their playoff hopes alive, the Mystics needed to do one thing and one thing only today, and they did it! This evening at the Verizon Center, they beat the Atlanta Dream in a wire-to-wire victory, 82-64. Though many prizes were given away tonight on Fan Appreciation Day, none made the Washington fans happier or more excited than this season-changing win. Including a few proud fans who refused to be "Out-Cheered" . . .

Lindsey Harding, whose floor leadership may be the team's most significant improvement this year, was not going to let this one slip away . . . even if she had to do it all by herself. Lindsey hit multiple big buckets with the shot clock running down to slam the door on Atlanta everytime they tried to sneak back in. Linds finished with a game-high 25. Fortunately, Lindsey didn't have to do it all herself . . . three other Mystics also finished in double figures: Chas (12)(plus great de-fense on 6'5" Erika de Souza), Lang (11), and Marissa (10). Every Mystics player got into the game, and nearly everyone scored.

The most nerve-wracking moments tonight came after the game, as the BasketCases and other Mystics fans were forced to wait. Wait for the conclusion of the Sky-Shock game, which started one hour after the Mystics game. Wait to see if the Sky would win. Wait to see if the Mystics would have to beat the Liberty in New York tomorrow to earn a playoff berth. We were left waiting and hoping the Sky would lose so that the final playoff spot would belong to Washington tonight. (Sorry, Kristi.)

The BasketCases apologize for the lateness of this post. We couldn't just leave without knowing whether the Mystics were in or still needed another win. So we stopped off at the Turtle, joining friends and other fans, who -- like us -- were waiting and hoping. We all followed the Sky game anxiously on Blackberries, iPhones, and all other available electronics, passing scores from table to table.

The early returns weren't encouraging, as the Sky led at the half, 41-22. But in the third quarter, Detroit came roaring back, taking a small lead into the final period. When the Shock won, 80-69, cheers erupted from the several tables of Mystics fans and Mystics staff in the house. We're in! We're going to the playoffs!!!

Not only are the Mystics now playoff-bound, but the odd-year curse is now officially exorcised! Another reason for fans to be happy tonight! For the first time in Mystics history, Washington has made the playoffs in an odd-numbered year. (Thanks Fr. Mike for the novena!)

And in their first year, GM Angela Taylor and Head Coach Julie Plank have done what even the BasketCases didn't believe was possible . . . they took a team that was playing perhaps the worst basketball in the entire league at the end of last season and -- as making the playoffs proves -- re-made the Mystics into a team that can compete with anybody . . . a team headed in the right direction.

Congratulations, Angela! Congratulations, Julie! And Congratulations to the entire Mystics Team and Mystics organization! We'll see you at Comcast.**

[**The Mystics will be providing free shuttle bus service from the College Park station to the arena for those fans traveling by Metro. There's also plenty of free parking adjacent to the Comcast Center for those who will be driving.]

And just for the hell of it, Go Mystics, Beat New York (even if you don't have to)!

Photo Credit: (U.S. Marines) DC BasketCases
* * * * * * *
Sunday evening update . . . With Alana Beard not playing (no doubt resting her bad ankles), and the rest of the starters playing limited minutes, the Mystics fell to the Liberty at Madison Square Garden this afternoon, 65-86. This concludes the regular season.

Next up for the Mystics: a date with the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Fever in the first round of the playoffs at Comcast Center on Thursday at 7PM.

Go Mystics! Beat the Fever!

Game Day . . . Musical Chairs Revisited: And Then There Were Two

It's hard to believe, but it's here. The Mystics' last regular season home game. The Atlanta Dream at 7 PM. Fan Apprecation Day. Hoopla, fun and prizes!

And a great deal at stake. In the span of just a few short days, the game of musical chairs being played out in the Eastern Conference by five teams for three playoff spots has now been reduced to two teams fighting over one last chair.

When the Dream beat the Sun last night, they not only secured a franchise-first playoff berth for themselves and knocked Connecticut out of the running, but they also guaranteed a playoff berth for Detroit, which wasn't even playing last night! (Please don't ask us to explain, but it involves another application of the brain-numbing three-way tie-break rule. Just trust on this. Well, at least trust the WNBA.)

That leaves the Mystics and the Sky in contention for the one remaining playoff spot. And in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Mystics must beat Atlanta today. It's that simple.

Be there!

Go Mystics! Beat the Dream!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Watch Your Step!

As we reported in our update last night to our previous post, Detroit picked up another win yesterday (by beating New York in overtime), and so did Chicago, upsetting Conference-leading Indiana. So what do those wins mean for the Mystics' playoff chances?

Well, as we established yesterday, if the Mystics win both of their remaining games this weekend, they will make the playoffs. That won't change between now and Sunday, no matter what. However, with two of their rivals winning last night, a Mystics mis-step at this point could be very very costly indeed.

The BasketCases hate to even contemplate a Mystics loss this weekend, but the still-complicated, still-tight playoff race begs the question: can the Mystics lose a game and still make it into the playoffs? Well, yes . . . but. There's always a "but" isn't there? In this case, the "but" is that the Mystics have to lose the "right" game (and two rivals have to lose as well).

Here are the current possibilities:

1. (Our favorite scenario!) The Mystics win out, finishing with a record of 17-17: they make the playoffs. Yay!

2. (Our least favorite scenario.) Either the Sky (now at 16-17) or the Sun (now at 15-17) win out and the Mystics (now at 15-17) lose either of their two remaining games: the Mystics are out of the playoffs. Boo!

3. (The most brain-numbing scenario.) The Sky lose their last game (to Detroit), finishing at 16-18, and the Sun lose one of their two games (either to Atlanta or Indy), also finishing at 16-18. If that happens, the Mystics could afford to lose to Atlanta New York (the "right" loss) as long as they beat New York Atlanta. They'd still be in. But the reverse is not true . . . if they beat lose to Atlanta (the "wrong" loss) and then lose to beat New York, season over! Here's why:

a) In a three way tie among the Mystics, Sky, and Sun, Connecticut would drop out because both Washington and Chicago have better head-to-head records (2-1) against them.

b) To break the tie between the Mystics and Sky, we'd first go to conference record, which would be an identical 10-12, so then we'd have to go the next tie-breaker, which (as our loyal readers know by now) is "better winning percentage against all teams with a .500 or better record at the end of the season." Though the season hasn't ended yet, it's close enough that we can determine how this might play out. At the moment, the Mystics have a 5-9 record against the five teams with records at or above .500 (Indy, Atlanta, Detroit, Phoenix and Seattle), with one game to play against Atlanta. Chicago's record against the same teams is 6-8, with a game left against Detroit. This means that the Mystics and the Sky could both finish with 16-18 records, and 6-9 records against those teams . . .but only if Washington beats Atlanta. (A win against below .500 New York doesn't help.) So if the Mystics get that critical above .500 win . . . Tied again!

Does the WNBA have a fourth tie-break for that scenario? Of course! It's "better point differential in games involving tied teams." (Here comes the good news!) In their four head-to-head games, the Mystics scored a total of 305 points, while the Sky scored 296. Advantage (and tie-break) to the Mystics by 9 points! The Mystics get in. Whew!

Complicated? You bet! That's why the safest scenario, of course, is for the Mystics to simply go out and beat Atlanta and beat New York. One step in the wrong direction leaves open the possibility that Washington could drop out of the playoff race. And with just one mis-step at this point, the Mystics could find themselves a long (long!) way down.

Go Mystics . . . WIN OUT!

* * * * * * * * * *

Friday night update . . .a couple of firsts . . . Atlanta beat Connecticut this evening, 88-64. This win secured the Dream's first playoff berth in their short history. It also eliminated the Sun from the playoffs, the first time in Connecticut's history that it will not be playing in the post-season. Congratulations to the Dream on making the playoffs. (And congratulations also to Detroit, which was idle tonight but locked up a playoff berth with Connecticut's loss.)

Need a bus? The Mystics announced late today that if they make the playoffs, they'll be providing free, round-trip shuttle bus service from Metro's College Park station to Comcast Center for any playoff games played there. This is a good, smart move by the Mystics!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Here We Go Round and Round . . .

Only a day after our last tie-breaker analysis (and with only one game played in that time in the entire WNBA!), the Mystics' playoff scenario has already changed!

In that single game played last night, our friends the Lynx pulled out a close victory at home over the Shock. So now Detroit has dropped back to 16-16, one game ahead of the musical chairs triumvirate of the Mystics, the Sky and the Sun (all of whom share records of 15-17).

The BasketCases are pleased to report that folks in the hard-working Mystics front office were paying as much attention as we were (or more!) to how that one game affected Washington's playoff chances. As Greg Bibb pointed out in his own blog post earlier today (prompting a comment on our post below from one of our loyal readers), last night's Detroit loss means that the Mystics -- cliché alert -- once again control their own destiny! If the Mystics win out, they will finish at 17-17 and will be in the playoffs no matter what any other team does.

Why? Well, Greg explains some of the possibilities. If Detroit wins their remaining games, they'll finish at 18-16, handing the Sky another loss along the way. So the best Chicago could finish would be 16-18 (behind the Mystics in our "win-out" scenario). But if the Sky beat the Shock, and both teams finish at 17-17, the Mystics would still get into the playoffs under the three-way tie scenario. Got that?

There's an even more complicated possibility: not only that the Mystics, Shock and Sky finish in a three-way tie at 17-17, but that the Dream and Sun could join them with that identical record! A five-way tie that we think would be a league record of its own. How? Well, the Mystics win out, beating Atlanta; Connecticut wins out, beating Atlanta; Chicago beats the Shock; and Detroit beats New York. (Are you dizzy yet?) The tie-break for that five-way tie would be "Better winning percentage among all head-to-head games involving tied teams." After looking at the win-loss records of each of those five teams against the other four, we think the Mystics would indeed still make the playoffs provided they win out.

So, now all the Mystics have to do is beat Atlanta on Saturday and New York on Sunday, and Comcast Center here we come. Believe . . . they can do it!

Go Mystics!

* * * * * * * *
Thursday night update . . . In what was hardly an upset, although it took an overtime period to do it, Detroit defeated New York tonight, and is now 17-16. But in what was an upset, Chicago defeated the conference-leading Fever, to improve to 16-17. (The Sky's leading scorer was Kristi Toliver, who came off the bench and in a little more than 21 minutes put up 19 points. KT was perfect from beyond the arc (3-3) as well as from the free throw line (6-6). She also outscored Tamika Catchings, who in nearly 35 minutes notched 16 points.) So the pressure on the Mystics to win out continues . . .

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Musical Chairs . . . who will get a seat and who will be left standing?

The Eastern Conference playoff race reminds us of that old children's game. Three chairs remaining and 5 teams still circling -- each one trying to position themselves to grab one of the seats when the music regular season ends later this week.

Indy, as our readers already know, has locked up first place in the Conference. And the Liberty, with a record of 12-20, have been mathematically eliminated.

But everyone else? They're all still in the mix! Has there ever been a more anxiety-ridden final week of the WNBA season -- for so many teams -- than this one? The BasketCases may not be stat-geeks, but we sure can't remember a playoff race this tight, this close to the end!

Here's a little more about how the race looks as of today . . . The Atlanta Dream are currently in second place, with a record of 17-15. One more win should lock up a playoff spot for them, though which spot is still up in the air. Meanwhile the Detroit Shock are alone in third place, with a record of 16-15, and close behind are the Sky, the Mystics, and the Sun, each with a record of 15-17. With so many teams so bunched together, the possibility that some of them will wind up in a tie when the season ends on Sunday is very likely. In fact, it's quite possible that Atlanta and Detroit could snag the second and third spots, leaving only one chair left and three teams -- Chicago, Washington, and Connecticut -- fighting over a single playoff seat.

So what would happen if those three teams are all tied up on Sunday night? We've already been asked about how the tie-breakers work, and we've responded in the comments to the post immediately below this one. For convenience, here's a recap:

If teams are tied when the season ends, the first tie-breaker is their head-to-head record. In that case, the Mystics and the Sky both hold the tie-break over the Sun, having each beaten Connecticut 2 out of the 3 games they've played this season. So bye-bye Sun. The next tie-break is "better winning percentage" against Eastern Conference teams. But right now, the Sky and Mystics have the same 9-11 in-conference record. And since each team's remaining two games are only against Eastern Conference opponents, Washington and Chicago can't wind up tied without having identical in-conference records. (Are you still with us?)

This means we'd have to move on to the next tie-break, which is "better winning percentage against all teams with .500 or better record at the end of season." So now things are really getting interesting. In fact, the results of this tie-break can't be known for certain until the regular season is over. However, there are some things we do know now:

1. Indy, Atlanta, Phoenix and Seattle are already guaranteed to finish at or above .500. The Mystics' record against those teams is 3-8, with one game left to play (against the Dream). The Sky's record is 5-5, also with one game left to play (against Indy).

2. Detroit, as noted above, is currently at 16-15. The Mystics are 2-1 against Detroit, while the Sky are 0-3 with one game left to play against the Shock.

3. Although LA could finish at or above .500, this would be irrelevant to a tie-break between the Mystics and the Sky, as they have the same (1-1) record against the Sparks. The Sun could also finish at .500, equally irrelevant to a tie-break scenario between the Mystics and the Sky, as they have identical records against Connecticut.

Assuming that the Mystics and the Sky win out (tying at 17-17), and assuming that Detroit remains at least at .500 (which helps the Mystics for these purposes), and not counting the irrelevant records against LA and the Sun, the Sky would have a 7-8 record against Indy, Atlanta, Detroit, Phoenix, and Seattle, while the Mystics would be at 6-9. Unfortunately for the Mystics, that tie-break would put Chicago in the playoffs when the music ends and leave the Mystics standing by without a chair.

We caution that this is how things look today. Much can (and, we hope, will) change before Sunday night.

By the way, if you're feeling a little dizzy right now -- after reading this -- like you're running around in circles . . . well, you're not alone!

* * * * * * * *
Change of Venue . . . the Mystics officially announced yesterday what's been known for some time and in fact already commented on in this blog: that the Verizon Center will not be available during the first round of the playoffs ("Walking With Dinosaurs" is in town). So any games hosted by the Mystics during that round would be held at Maryland's Comcast Center.

While it's unfortunate -- for fans and the team -- that the game(s) would not be played on the Mystics' true home court, the good news is that Comcast Center is a beautiful, professional arena. And we have to believe it would be inspiring for both Lang and Marissa to have a little "homecoming" of sorts, playing again in an arena where their jerseys are hanging from the rafters. (Of course, for the Dukies' sake, maybe it would be best if they rolled up the National Championship banner . . . just for the day. LOL!)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Slip Sliding Away . . .

Paul Simon could have written the soundtrack for the Mystics' road trip this weekend, as Washington followed up its loss on Friday in Chicago with a loss this afternoon in Indianapolis, 61-72. After the Mystics' important and exciting win over Seattle on Thursday, these two losses have turned the Mystics' playoff chances on their head. With only two games remaining, a playoff berth, while not impossible, is looking far more elusive.

It's never easy to beat a full-strength conference-leading team playing at home on fan appreciation day. It's even harder to beat a strong team like the Fever if you shoot less than 30% from the floor. And that's what the Mystics did. They shot an appalling 28.9% from the floor in Indy today, with a very predictable result.

The Mystics came out of the gate lagging, as Indiana opened with a 16-2 run, and at the end of the 1st quarter Washington trailed, 22-14. The Mystics re-grouped during the 2nd & 3rd periods and even led by a point at the start of the final quarter. But Indy began the 4th period with a 9-0 run and never looked back.

Lang was the Mystics' leading scorer, with 13 points. Lindsey added 12, and Marissa finished with 11 off the bench. Alana, who missed the last two games because of her sprained left ankle, didn't start but played a little over 17 minutes, scoring 6 points. Matee, who notched a career-high 32 points on Friday in Chicago, was held scoreless today, going 0-10. Ouch!

The Fever, who had already locked up first place in the East, have now swept the season series with the Mystics, 4-0. The Mystics have dropped to 15-17.

We can only hope now that with the right combination of wins by the Mystics in their remaining two games, and losses by other teams, the Mystics can garner a playoff spot in the still tightly-bunched Eastern Conference. We can still hope. But in truth, it looks like the nearer the destination, the more the Mystics' playoff chances are slip sliding away.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Every team in the Eastern Conference had a game tonight, which means that all 4 of the teams fighting for the 3rd & 4th playoff spots were in action. And every one of those teams pulled out a win, except for one -- the Mystics -- who lost on the road to Chicago, 86-92. So the standings-pendulum swung today, but not in the Mystics' favor.

The Sky's Sylvia Fowles, who missed several games due to a sprained ankle, returned to action tonight, coming off the bench to score 13 points -- for Chicago-- in nearly 17 minutes of play. Big Syl also scored 2 points for the Mystics on an "own goal." (Those points were credited to Chasity Melvin, the nearest Mystics player.) But the Mystics, playing the second half of a back-to-back, were still playing without their All-Star, Alana Beard, who was again on the bench in street clothes. (And therefore didn't score any points, for the Mystics or for the Sky.)

Unlike last night, however, when a balanced effort by AB's teammates secured a much-needed win, tonight the Mystics' offense was far more lopsided. Matee Ajavon had a career-high 32 points, while Crystal Langhorne had another double-double, putting up 23 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Lindsey Harding finished with 12 points, and Chas had 8 of her own, plus the 2 courtesy of Big Syl, to finish in double figures with 10.

But that was about it. The Mystics got practically no production from their wings, Mo & Marissa, and Washington's bench was MIA tonight, scoring a combined 5 points. By contrast, the Sky got a whopping 48 points from theirs!

But amazingly, being the gamers that they are, the Mystics still almost pulled this one out. In the last 5 minutes, they fought back from an 8-point deficit to grab a 1-point lead with 40 seconds left. But a failure by the Mystics to get a defensive stop, and a couple of turnovers and some fouls, allowed the Sky to grab the swing-game win.

Like last night, there were more than 50 fouls called in this game. The whistles interrupted play so often (particularly in the 4th quarter) that both teams struggled to find their offensive rhythm. It got so painful that the Sky announcer repeatedly complained about the abundance of calls . . . even when some of the fouls were called on the Mystics. (For the record, the game wasn't decided by the officials. However, we agree with the announcer . . . it was very annoying.)

With tonight's loss, the Mystics drop to 15-16, and the Sky improve to 15-16. The two teams are now tied for 4th place in the East. Detroit, meanwhile, beat Indy to move to 15-15, and take sole possession of 3rd place. And the Sun (back at home after their West Coast swing) kept their playoff hopes alive by defeating the Liberty -- in OT -- and are now sitting just behind the Mystics and the Sky at 15-17. So this playoff race remains as close and wild as ever!

Which means, of course, that any one of the Mystics' remaining 3 games could make the difference between a playoff spot or an also-ran season. And the Mystics' next game should really test their mettle, as Washington now heads down to Indianapolis to face the Conference-leading Fever on Sunday at 4 PM. Indy has beaten Washington in all 3 previous meetings this season. Regardless (and we know we're sounding repetitive), with tonight's loss, Sunday's game is a MUST win.

Go Mystics, Beat Indy!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

One Step Closer

The Mystics took an important step closer to securing a playoff berth by defeating the Storm tonight at the Verizon Center, 78-67. Washington's victory also snapped Seattle's (league-best) 6-game winning streak.

The Storm may have been playing without Lauren Jackson, but the Mystics were playing without Alana Beard, who sprained her left ankle in Sunday's win over Minny and did not dress for tonight's game. (Well, actually she did dress . . . very stylishly we might add. We don't want to leave the impression she was unclothed! She just wasn't dressed in her uniform -- for basketball.) The BasketCases were told that AB wanted to play tonight. But the Mystics are headed to Chicago for a game tomorrow against the Sky (one of the teams competing with the Mystics for a playoff spot). A game that, for better or for worse, will result in a full game swing in the standings between Washington and Chicago. So perhaps Coach Plank thought it wise to give Alana another day to heal so she could play some minutes tomorrow in Chicago.

Tonight's game was another competitive, close, 40-minute affair --both teams crashing the boards and clamping down on de-fense. The Mystics lead by 2 at halftime, and were ahead by the same margin when the final period began. And it was still only a 2-point game halfway throught the 4th quarter. But down the stretch, the short-handed Mystics made some big plays, and finally put the game away.

The win was a complete, balanced -- and exciting -- team effort from Washington, who indeed "stepped up" with AB on the sidelines. Five players finished in double figures, led by Mo Currie, whose 17-points (which included a critical 3-pointer late in the game) tied for game-high honors with Sue Bird. Matee Ajavon, who started in place of Alana, added 16 points and 4 steals. Matee's hustle and all-out effort were a sheer delight . . . she is quickly becoming another fan favorite! Marissa Coleman (her slump now history) was close behind with 15 (a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc!). Lang struggled early but finished with 12 points (and 11 boards, for yet another double-double), and Nakia added 10. Yes, plenty of high-stepping from Alana's teammates!

The officiating tonight was typical of what we've seen in the WNBA many times before . . . bad calls for and bad calls against each team. In fact, there were so many whistles, the game seemed to take forever. Fortunately, the Mystics' lackluster performance from the free throw line didn't cost them tonight's game, but it remains an area of concern . . . particularly in this oh-so-tight playoff race.

At the moment though, what the Mystics need is as much rest as they can get before tomorrow night, when they play the second half of another infamous WNBA back-to-back. They tip-off against the Sky -- in Chicago -- at 8:30 PM ET (you can watch on Live Access).

Following tonight's win, the Mystics are back at .500 with a record of 15-15 and all alone in third place in the East. But Chicago, at 14-16, could pull even with Washington, if they could knock off the Mystics tomorrow. Or, the Mystics could create some critical separation between themselves and the Sky if they win. So once again, much will be on the line . . . another MUST win situation. Stay tuned.

Go Mystics, Beat the Sky

Photo Credit: DC BasketCases

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Stepping Up

On Sunday, the Mystics got that "must win" against Minnesota to stop their slide and climb back into playoff position. But one win -- big as it was -- hardly guarantees they'll be playing in the post-season.

Last night, Detroit narrowly defeated Phoenix, and now boasts the same record as Washington, 14-15. The Chicago Sky, at 14-16, are breathing down both teams' necks. Meanwhile, the Sun (a team that's never missed the playoffs) is lurking with a 14-17 record, and can hardly be counted out either. The tightness of this season's Eastern Conference playoff race is unprecedented; everyone is talking -- and writing -- about it, from Mystics GM Angela Taylor to ESPN sportswriter Mechelle Voepel.

The Mystics have just 5 games left in the regular season, the first of which is tomorrow's 7 PM re-match with Seattle at the Phone Booth. The Storm whupped the Mystics pretty good a little over a week ago during Washington's West Coast swing.

One change to note is that tomorrow the Storm will be without the services of one of their stars, Lauren Jackson. About a week ago, LJ was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her back. Of course, it's unclear whether the Mystics will have their star player, Alana Beard, in the lineup. As our readers know, Alana sprained her left ankle late in Sunday's game against Minnesota. (She rolled her right ankle during the Seattle game several days earlier.) The Post's Katie Carrera reports that Alana's availability will be a game-time decision. In the Times, Mike Fratto notes that even if Alana does play, she'll likely be limited. Obviously, we hope that AB will be well enough to play, but reading between the lines, it sounds to us like there's a distinct possibility that Alana may not dress. We hope we're wrong.

If Alana isn't available, then, as Coach Plank told the press, other people will have to "step up." Lauren Jackson's teammates did just that in beating the Atlanta Dream in double-OT last Saturday, and in beating the Liberty at MSG yesterday. Seattle's already locked up a playoff spot in the West. But their current 6-game win streak has them in position to challenge Phoenix for first place. So the Mystics on Thursday have another tough game against a highly-motivated Western Conference opponent. When all is said and done, tomorrow's game may come down to which team does a better job of "stepping up" for an injured star.

Go Mystics! Beat the Storm!