The New York Liberty's surprising road victory over the Atlanta Dream nearly a month ago seemed to boost their chances of a fourth consecutive playoff appearance, but an ensuing slump has put a damper on that possibility.
Atlanta has secured a playoff berth but is still eyeing home-court advantage in the first round, while New York looks to bolster its slim playoff hopes by winning for the third time in four meetings with Dream this season Friday night.
Cappie Pondexter's 33 points helped spark the Liberty (11-19) to an 88-82 victory Aug. 11, Atlanta's first home defeat of the season. It was their second win over the Dream after a 76-67 victory June 9 that was Atlanta's lone loss during a 10-1 start.
New York, though, has dropped six of seven since that last meeting and is 2 1/2 games behind fourth-place Indiana for the final Eastern Conference postseason berth with four games left. It has a chance to pick up ground when it faces the Fever on Sept. 13, with the contest against the Dream and a meeting with Phoenix on Tuesday coming before that matchup.
Pondexter scored 20 points Sunday to become the 12th player in WNBA history to reach the 5,000-point mark, but the Liberty fell 93-88 to Tulsa. She averaged 9.4 points while shooting 24.2 percent over her previous five.
Kara Braxton also scored 20 against the Shock.
"We had our moments, but we haven't been able to string together an entire game with intensity,'' coach Bill Laimbeer said. "Our fourth quarter was by far our best quarter, but (Tulsa) made the plays late.''
Atlanta (16-13) ended a four-game skid with a 92-82 win over Los Angeles on Monday before clinching a fifth consecutive playoff spot with an 89-80 overtime win over Indiana on Wednesday.
Both victories came at home, where the Dream are 13-3. They lead Washington by two games for the second seed and home-court advantage in the first round.
Angel McCoughtry, the WNBA leader with 21.9 points a game, scored 30 on Wednesday. She is also averaging a league-best 2.9 steals and had two crucial takeaways that she converted into layups in the extra period.
"She said, `I'm going to step it up,' and she made some plays for us,'' coach Fred Williams said.
Erika de Souza, who had 23 points and 10 boards in the last meeting with the Liberty, added 17 and 14 on Wednesday. The Dream made WNBA Finals appearances in 2010 and '11 before losing to Indiana in the first round last season, and they're hoping to avoid injury over their final five games as they seek another deep playoff run.
Forward Sancho Lyttle, who averages 14.3 points but has played only six games, underwent foot surgery in July. She could return in time for the postseason.
"We just want to get (to the playoffs) and get everyone healthy,'' McCoughtry said.