Living through the nightmare of a late-season tailspin for the second straight year, the New York Liberty look to avoid a ninth consecutive defeat Tuesday night when they face the Indiana Fever.
New York (8-18) was never really in the hunt for a playoff spot last year as it closed the season on a 13-game losing streak and finished a franchise-worst 7-27. This season, the Liberty were 7-7 after an 80-76 victory at Phoenix on July 5, but the bottom has dropped out since with 11 losses in 12 games.
The current losing streak reached eight Sunday with a 78-72 setback at Phoenix despite 23 points and 13 rebounds from veteran and All-Star Tina Charles. This loss was particularly frustrating as New York had an eight-point lead with 8:54 to play before being overwhelmed by a Mercury team playing without suspended All-Star and WNBA leading scorer Brittney Griner.
"I thought we battled but we just had a tough time scoring in the second and the fourth and we fouled a little too much," head coach Katie Smith told Elite Sports NY. "Three-pointers and free-throws were really the difference in the ballgame, but I thought we battled and defense was solid and held them to 78 points. Going to be tough winning ball games scoring 72 but we competed tonight."
Indiana (9-17) is going to miss the postseason for the third straight season, though it will at least improve on its win total from last year. The Fever saw just how large the chasm is between themselves and the league's best Sunday when they were pummeled 107-68 on the road by the Washington Mystics.
Tiffany Mitchell scored 17 points and Teaira McCowan added a career-high 14 to go with 10 rebounds, but Indiana was overwhelmed in a game-opening 20-2 tear by Washington and allowed the Mystics to set a WNBA record with 18 3-pointers.
Fever coach Pokey Chatman could do little but marvel at the efficiency of Washington as Elena Delle Donne orchestrated an offense that racked up 30 assists while committing just six turnovers.
"I think you're just talking about one of the most skilled players, that's seven years into her career," Chatman told the HoopFeed blog about Delle Donne. "When you figure out the nuances of the game. I think that's where she is."
McCowan leads all WNBA rookies with six double-doubles and recorded her third in seven games. The third overall pick in the draft is averaging 7.6 points and 8.1 rebounds, ranking seventh in the league in the latter category.
Indiana recorded its first two wins of the season over New York in its first three games, including a 92-77 victory June 1 in the most recent matchup. Kelsey Mitchell hit five 3-pointers and scored 23 points in that home win as the Fever scored the first 11 points and never looked back.