Liberty-Mystics Preview

The Associated Press

There's plenty at stake before the Washington Mystics begin their first playoff series in three years.

With a little help, the Mystics could clinch the third seed in the Eastern Conference on Sunday when they wrap up the regular season against the visiting New York Liberty.

Washington (16-17) sealed its first playoff appearance since 2010 with Tuesday's 69-67 win at Indiana that ensured a season split with the Fever, also 16-17.

While third-place Indiana holds the second tiebreaker due to a better conference record, the Mystics can move past the defending WNBA champs with a victory over the lottery-bound Liberty and a Fever loss at league-worst Connecticut.

The third seed faces Atlanta in the opening round of the playoffs, while the fourth seed faces regular-season champion Chicago. That may be significant considering Washington has won the last two meetings with the Dream but lost its last three against the Sky.

"I don't think we can afford to have a cash-it-in game in the sense of us resting people," coach Mike Thibault said. "I think this team needs as many games as it can to try and play at a high level."

The Mystics hope to do their part by getting past the Liberty (11-22), though that hasn't been an easy task recently. They've lost seven of the past nine meetings, including two of three this season.

Washington did snap a five-game losing streak to New York in the most recent matchup, turning a one-point lead after three quarters into a 66-57 road win Aug. 16. Matee Ajavon had a team-high 16 points and is averaging 16.3 against the Liberty, but has scored 4.5 per game in her last eight overall.

New York has done a decent job defending Washington leading scorer Ivory Latta (13.9 ppg), who has had 11 points in each of the three meetings while shooting a combined 11 for 34 from the field.

Latta heads into this contest on a roll, averaging 17.3 points on 19-of-35 shooting in her last three games. She finished with 19 on 7-of-10 shooting Friday in an 82-56 win over Connecticut.

"We need to take care of our game Sunday against New York here and then we'll focus on the playoffs," said Latta, who made five of Washington's team-record 12 3-pointers.

Latta and the Mystics hope to match a season high with their third straight win while dealing the Liberty their seventh consecutive loss.

New York, which hasn't dropped that many in a row since July 12-31, 2007, could be without leading scorer Cappie Pondexter (16.9 ppg) because of a right knee bruise. The All-Star forward missed her second straight game Friday, a 66-63 loss at Indiana.

Washington still has to be concerned about Kara Braxton, who had 38 points on 18-of-21 shooting in New York's two victories in this series.

This marks the final game for New York's Katie Smith, the seven-time All-Star who announced earlier this summer she would retire at the end of the season.

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