The Washington Mystics and New York Liberty have yet to meet, and four matchups over their final 16 games figure to be critical in determining whether they reach the playoffs.
Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer and Mystics coach Mike Thibault renew their sideline rivalry when their clubs meet Wednesday night in Washington.
Washington (9-9) is in third place in the Eastern Conference, one-half game ahead of Indiana and two ahead of fifth-place New York (7-11). The top four teams reach the postseason.
The spotlight in this matchup falls on first-year coaches Laimbeer and Thibault.
They enjoyed an intense rivalry with their previous clubs - Laimbeer with Detroit and Thibault with Connecticut - between 2002-08. Laimbeer's Shock eliminated Thibault's Sun twice in three playoff series in that span.
Now they meet for the first time with their new teams.
"I think that competing against Mike is a lot of fun," Laimbeer said. "He's an intense guy. He wants to win very badly. I enjoy competition and so does he, as do our ballclubs, which will probably be an extension of the coaches."
Thibault feels the short distance between these franchises adds a different dynamic to this rivalry than the one between Detroit and Connecticut.
"I think the proximity will actually help, because you'll have fans - if both of us have teams that we want them to become at some point, you'll have fans that travel up and down that (interstate) 95 corridor to see the games," he said.
One of Laimbeer's first moves as Liberty general manager was to trade Kia Vaughn to the Mystics on Feb. 27. The center, who played her previous four seasons with New York, has started seven of 18 games this year and now faces her former team for the first time.
Laimbeer was critical of his team's effort in a 65-53 loss at San Antonio last Thursday in New York's final game before the All-Star break. The Liberty shot 26.7 percent and committed 16 turnovers.
Cappie Pondexter scored 20 that night and now takes on fellow All-Star guard Ivory Latta.
Latta had 18 points and 13 assists as the Mystics rallied from a 21-point deficit in their last game before the break, an 82-78 win over Chicago last Wednesday.
"We got New York coming in here Wednesday, they've got a great team," Latta said. "They've got an All-Star in Cappie Pondexter so we've got to buckle down."
Another All-Star, the Mystics' Crystal Langhorne, is third in the WNBA in field-goal percentage at 55.1. She has struggled to total 15 points on 6-of-20 shooting over her last three games.
New York went 4-1 against Washington last season, sweeping three September matchups to help clinch the club's third straight playoff berth.