The WNBA playoffs are still a few weeks away, but Friday night's matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm promises to have a bit of a postseason feel.
Host Seattle (20-7) has the best record in the league, leading Atlanta by 3 1/2 games. Minnesota (15-11) has overcome a 3-6 start and had a chance to tie the Dream for second place before Thursday night's 79-57 loss in Los Angeles that snapped the Lynx's three-game winning streak.
"You have to treat every game like it's a playoff game," Storm point guard Sue Bird told The Seattle Times. "For us, that means not relaxing, not being complacent.
"Yes, we had a good first part of the season, but that doesn't mean anything. You have to peak in the playoffs. I know that's the message that I'm going to be sending in our locker room. Just don't relax because it's going to be crazy competitive."
Since Seattle last played in the WNBA finals, beating Atlanta in 2010, the Lynx have gone six times in seven seasons, winning four titles.
"You have to be so focused, so locked in, and all the little things make a big difference when it comes to getting a win or not getting a win every night," said Minnesota forward Maya Moore, the 2014 WNBA MVP. "Teams have to be able to focus in and execute down the stretch. Again, the margin from victory to defeat is so, so narrow.
"It's great for the game. It's just very stressful for anyone who's invested in us as people because these games, they're devastating because we're all picking up our intensity, and so each game feels like a playoff game."
The Lynx have a 38-29 all-time advantage over the Storm, with Minnesota winning the first matchup this season 91-79 on June 26. The teams meet against Aug. 12 in Minneapolis.
"The standings are pretty tight," said Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles, the league's reigning MVP who is averaging 17.1 points and a career-high 11.7 rebounds per game. "It's going to get down to the nitty gritty, but that will make it interesting. Every team in this league is good. Bring your 'A' game every night."
The Storm are coming off a 4-1 trip, with four more games on the road after Friday's contest at KeyArena.
"There will be a lot of games that will have a playoff feel," Storm coach Dan Hughes told The Seattle Times. "This team is learning from those experiences, win or lose.
"We're collecting data and understanding ourselves in those situations. For this team, it's a good learning process. ... Win or lose, we need to play in those games and have the experience of learning what we did well or hopefully not too many situations what we didn't."