Last year, the Phoenix Mercury were in the midst of a postseason run that saw them breeze through the Western Conference playoffs on the way to their first WNBA championship.
Now, one more loss means the Mercury likely won't get a chance to defend their title.
Phoenix faces a near must-win situation Friday when it hosts the Sacramento Monarchs, who are looking to complete a season sweep of the Mercury while improving their own playoff position.
Phoenix swept Seattle and San Antonio in last season's playoffs before knocking off Detroit in five games for the franchise's first championship. The Mercury, who won 11 of their last 12 games prior to the postseason, will likely need to win their final five contests if they're to have any chance of repeating.
Phoenix (13-16) will almost certainly need a victory over the Monarchs, who hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the West. A loss to Sacramento (16-13) would put the Mercury four games back with four to play, meaning Phoenix's only hope to make the postseason would be in a complicated three-way tiebreaker with Sacramento and Los Angeles. That unlikely scenario would require the Monarchs and Sparks to lose all their remaining games while the Mercury won out.
Phoenix got its stretch run off to a good start Wednesday with a home win over one of the teams ahead of it. The Mercury jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead over Minnesota, then held on to win 103-96 despite giving up 70 second-half points.
"It sure wasn't pretty, but I guess we got it done," said guard Diana Taurasi, who scored a game-high 32 points. "It's just nice when a lot of people contribute and it was good to see."
Guard Kelly Miller chipped in a season-high 20 points, while Cappie Pondexter, the league's second-leading scorer at 21.5 points per game behind Taurasi (23.8), added 18.
Sacramento has averaged 94 points in a pair of wins over Phoenix this season, both at Arco Arena. Six Monarchs scored in double figures in a 105-97 victory July 12, and Rebekkah Brunson led the way with 18 points in Sacramento's 83-74 win July 24.
"We owe them," Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said. "They got us two times up there, and (we) definitely need to come out and do our thing."
Sacramento had a seven-game winning streak snapped in its last game before the Olympic break, and the Monarchs also lost in their first game back, falling by 15 at Los Angeles on Aug. 28. They rebounded Saturday against Houston, getting 20 points from Nicole Powell en route to an 80-65 win.
Instead of being tied with the Comets, the Monarchs opened up a two-game cushion.
"Look at the standings, how tight everything is," Powell said. "There is lot of desperation going on right now with every team."