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Liberty, Dream battle for playoff position

Red-hot Tina Charles and the New York Liberty head to Atlanta on Friday to take on the struggling Dream in an Eastern Conference battle between a pair of playoff contenders.

Charles, the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for July, has continued to roll in August. She scored 26 points to lead the Liberty past Indiana on Tuesday, snapping a two-game slide for New York.

The Liberty (13-12) enter Friday's road test in fifth place in the league standings. They will face an Atlanta squad that has dropped five straight games to fall into ninth place. The top eight teams qualify for the postseason.

Three of the Dream's losses during their current skid came against the juggernaut Minnesota Lynx, who own the best record in the league. Atlanta played the Lynx tough on Tuesday and had a lead late in the third quarter. But the Dream faltered down the stretch, scoring just eight points in the fourth quarter and lost to Minnesota for the ninth consecutive time.

"I think we just need to stay mentally tough going into the fourth quarter," Atlanta guard Bria Holmes told reporters after the loss to the Lynx. "Just staying together as one. Most of the games we lost have been in the fourth quarter. We just need to stay together. We just need to play for 40 minutes. We can't just let up and complain. If something doesn't go our way, we need to keep fighting and playing through everything."

Atlanta (10-16) and New York have split their two previous games this season. The Dream beat the Liberty in their most recent meeting 81-72 on July 2 in Atlanta. Rookie guard Brittney Sykes had 19 points, and point guard Layshia Clarendon scored 15 points and handed out nine assists to help Atlanta overcome a 21-point performance from Charles.

Charles had 18 points and 15 rebounds in the Liberty's 76-61 home win over Atlanta on June 7.

"Tina does such a good job of being consistent and not taking plays off," Atlanta forward Elizabeth Williams told the team's website. "Every play, every second she's either posting up, she's moving, she's forcing you to defend her at all times."

July was a WNBA-high 10th time Charles has been named player of the month during her eight-year career.

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