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While the Indiana Fever have the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed locked up, they haven't looked much like title contenders of late.

The Fever's recent struggles, though, pale in comparison to those of the Washington Mystics, who try to avoid a franchise-record 12th consecutive defeat Friday night in the nation's capital.

After getting swept in a home-and-home set versus Minnesota, Indiana (20-12) was handed a season worst-tying third straight loss Wednesday, 73-67 at East-leading Connecticut. Playing without starting guards Briann January and Shavonte Zellous, the Fever nearly rallied from a 17-point third-quarter deficit, clawing their way back to within five in the closing minutes.

"One of the things we wanted to do was compete," coach Lin Dunn said. "We're not going to come in here and lay down and die, and we're going to give our backups some quality minutes."

Katie Douglas had 19 points while Tamika Catchings scored 15 for Indiana, which hasn't lost four straight regular-season contests since a six-game skid in 2007.

While things aren't looking up for the Fever with January and Zellous ruled out for the rest of the regular season with head injuries, a softer remaining schedule could help them regroup before the playoffs.

Indiana, which finishes up Sunday against Tulsa, has taken seven of its last eight meetings with Washington, with the only loss coming 67-66 on the road June 15.

While the Mystics' Crystal Langhorne had 22 points and 13 rebounds in that game, her status for this one is unknown after she missed Sunday's 75-68 defeat to New York with a sprained left foot. She's averaging a team-high 14.7 points.

Her presence was clearly missed against the Liberty, who outscored Washington 28-16 in the fourth quarter.

"That's something we've been struggling with is trying to close games," said Jasmine Thomas, who scored a team-best 16 points. "We've been getting ourselves in position to win toward the end, and then whether it's getting a defensive stop or getting an easy basket or taking care of the ball at the end we're not making it happen.

"We're taking this whole season and trying to learn from it. That's why you haven't seen us really give up toward the end. We're still trying to win games."

Washington closes its schedule Saturday at Chicago following Friday's home finale.

"It's a little bittersweet," forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton said. "We didn't have the best season that we wanted for the fans, but we're still playing hard - our fans know that - and they really support us."

The Mystics (5-27) need to win their last two games to avoid matching - or surpassing - their second-worst record in team history, set last year. Washington went 3-27 during its inaugural season in 1998, also losing 11 straight that year.



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