The Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury will head into their final game of the regular season with identical 16-17 records. While the Fever already know they're headed to the postseason, for the Mercury the finale is just that.
Indiana will look to build some momentum for its fourth straight playoff appearance, while Phoenix will try to end its disappointing season on a positive note Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Fever went 21-13 in their last three regular seasons. The best they can do in 2008 is finish at .500 should they beat the Mercury, but they'll be headed back to the postseason either way.
Last season, Phoenix beat Detroit to win the WNBA championship - the first in franchise history - but it won't get a chance to defend its title. In the highly competitive Western Conference, the Mercury have scored enough points to win their share of games (league-high 88.5-point average), but they've also given up 88.1 ppg, easily the most in the league.
Though it wound up too little too late, Phoenix has played well since the Olympic break. The Mercury have won four of five since a losing their first game back, and their latest contest was typically high-scoring. Diana Taurasi scored 31 points and Cappie Pondexter had 23 as Phoenix beat Minnesota 96-87 on Friday, its second win over the Lynx in September.
"It would be easy to fold and say, 'What is there really to play for?'" said Taurasi, whose 24.3 scoring average leads the league. "But every time you step on the court you have something to prove as an individual, as a teammate, and just respect for the game of basketball."
The Fever will face Detroit - the team that knocked them out in the Eastern Conference finals last season - in a best-of-three conference semifinal series beginning Friday in Indianapolis. The Fever have lost all three games against the Shock this season by an average margin of 12 points.
They'll look to go into the playoffs, though, with consecutive wins for only the second time since early July. Tammy Sutton-Brown had 16 points at home Thursday as Indiana coasted by New York 74-59.
"Our focus was like a playoff focus from the beginning," said forward Tamika Catchings, who's averaging 13.1 points - second on the team behind Katie Douglas (15.4). "Hopefully, we can play 40 minutes like that from here on out."
Catchings scored 25 points in the Fever's 88-84 victory at Phoenix on July 27. Taurasi led the way for the Mercury with 25 points, while Pondexter had 21.