The Indiana Fever have a chance to close out the first half of the regular season with wins over the first-place teams in the Western and Eastern Conferences when they face the New York Liberty on Thursday in New York.
Tamika Catchings had a vintage performance in the Fever's big win over the Los Angeles Sparks, who are in first place in the Western Conference and own the best record in the WNBA. Catchings scored 23 points in the Fever's 92-82 win over the Sparks on Tuesday.
"We really buckled down," Catchings told reporters after the win. "Defensively, that is where it starts for us. When we play really good on the defensive end, we finish it off with a rebound and we're able to get out in transition, we look like a great team. "
The Fever (11-12) have won four of five games, but have their hands full with the first-place Liberty. New York got 69 points from its bench in an 88-80 win over the Washington Mystics on Tuesday. The 69 points off the bench were a WNBA record
The Liberty (18-7) have won six of seven and have beaten Indiana twice this season. Star forward Tina Charles, who is having an MVP-caliber season for the Liberty, had 26 points and 15 rebounds in a 78-75 overtime win against the Fever on June 19. New York also blew out the Fever 91-59 on June 3.
Indiana believes it has improved since those losses.
"When we play like this," Catchings said after the win over Los Angeles, "there are very few teams that can beat us when we're playing at our best. "
Charles is second in the WNBA in scoring (21.2 points) and rebounding (9.5 rebounds). Sugar Rodgers is second on the Liberty in scoring, averaging 15.3 points per game.
Catchings, who has announced that this will be her last season in the WNBA, leads the Fever in scoring, at 13.9 points per game. Tiffany Mitchell is averaging 10.7 points per game.
The two Eastern Conference rivals met in the playoffs last season, with Indiana winning the series 2-1.