Liberty-Fever Preview

The Associated Press

The Indiana Fever have clinched their ninth straight postseason appearance, but star forward Tamika Catchings knows there's still plenty to play for over the final two regular-season games.

She'll look to help Indiana avoid a second consecutive defeat while dealing the visiting New York Liberty a sixth straight loss Friday night.

Catchings scored a game-high 15 points as the Fever (15-17) secured a playoff berth with Saturday's 69-60 win over Connecticut, which they'll face in the regular-season finale Sunday.

Indiana, though, failed to clinch the Eastern Conference's third seed after losing to Washington 69-67 at home Tuesday, falling into a tie with the Mystics. If the squads remain tied at season's end, the Fever would be the No. 3 seed and face Atlanta due to a better conference record, while Washington would play first-place Chicago.

Briann January scored a game-high 16 points and Catchings added 13 on Tuesday. Catchings hopes the defending WNBA champions can get back on track before defending their title.

"These next couple days of practice, and going into the last two games of the season, we have to play with a playoff mindset," Catchings told the team's official website. "Every single game, here on out, has to be a playoff mentality. Every practice, every game, every shootaround. We have to start shifting gears."

Catchings, who was named the WNBA finals MVP after the Fever beat Minnesota in October, stressed concern specifically with missed layups that led to the team shooting 38.4 percent Tuesday.

"That's 10, 12, 14 points that we could have had," Catchings said. "I don't want to get embarrassed. I think we have too good of a team to get embarrassed in the first round."

Coach Lin Dunn wasn't happy, either.

"It's everybody," Dunn said. "I'm talking about when you got in there and got an open look. Those are the ones that are very frustrating for us."

New York (11-21) has only two games left in its frustrating season after it was eliminated from postseason contention with Tuesday's 80-76 loss to Phoenix. The Liberty, who have lost eight of nine, played without leading scorer Cappie Pondexter because of a knee contusion.

Coach Bill Laimbeer said Pondexter, who averages 16.9 points, may sit out the final two games with the Liberty eliminated, though a decision hasn't been made.

Tuesday's contest marked the final home game for 39-year-old Katie Smith, who announced earlier this summer should would retire at the end of the season.

Smith, a seven-time WNBA All-Star and the league's second-leading scorer, netted a season-high 17 points the loss.

"She's an all-time professional,'' said Laimbeer, who coached Smith to WNBA titles in 2006 and 2008 with Detroit. "She's gone from prolific scorer to outstanding defender and team leader. I can't say enough about her."

The Fever and Liberty have split four meetings this season. Pondexter scored a game-high 24 points to help overcome 21 from January and 16 from Catchings in New York's 77-72 victory July 23 in the most recent matchup.