The Indiana Fever and New York Liberty are among four teams fighting for three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, and how they fare against each other down the stretch could end up determining their postseason fate.
Indiana and New York play the first of three meetings over eight days as the visiting Fever look to avoid a fourth straight defeat Sunday.
Second-place Washington leads the Liberty (13-16) by 1 1/2 games, and New York has a one-half game edge on Indiana (13-17) and Chicago, which are tied for the final East playoff spot.
The Fever have back-to-back games against New York – the teams meet again Thursday – and the clubs end the regular season with a meeting at Madison Square Garden next Sunday. Indiana plays Chicago the day before.
The Fever haven’t done anything to help their playoff chances recently, getting routed by the Mystics 74-61 at home Friday. Shavonte Zellous scored 13 points but Tamika Catchings shot 4 of 14 and had only 11 for Indiana.
"We just have to flush this one," Zellous said. "We have to go to New York and steal a game up there."
Catchings was a bit more frustrated.
"I feel like we’re underachieving right now,” Catchings said. ”For the most part, I felt like we were trying. It wasn’t like we just rolled over. I think really it was turnovers and missed assignments. We just got to do better.
"We might not be in the playoffs if we keep playing like this. That’s just the reality check of it."
New York has won two of three and boosted its playoff chances with Friday’s 71-66 win over Connecticut. Tina Charles had 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Liberty.
Aside from their matchups with the Fever, they’ll face West-leading Phoenix on Tuesday and Washington next Saturday.
”We knew how important this game was,” coach Bill Laimbeer said. ”It’s not a death game but it was Game 5 or Game 6 in the world that I come from. You had to win this game to get yourself an advantage. We didn’t play well but at the same time we gutted it out.”
New York made up for shooting 33 percent from the field by going 31 of 37 from the free-throw line. Cappie Pondexter scored six points while hitting just three of 12 shots – though she made two in the final minutes – and has shot 28.5 percent over her last four.
”Our heart was tested, there’s no question about that,” Laimbeer said. ”Cappie didn’t have her shot going but all of a sudden she makes two of the biggest shots of the game in the last couple minutes.”
Pondexter went 1 for 10 from the field at Indiana on May 31, but Charles had 22 points and 14 boards to help the Liberty win 70-66.