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Liberty thriving entering matchup with sinking Fever

The New York Liberty had a week to remember while the Indiana Fever had a week to forget.

The Liberty, fighting for the all-important fourth playoff spot with Washington, travel Wednesday to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take on the Fever. The top four teams earn a first-round bye in the postseason.

On their way to winning five straight games, the New York Liberty last week defeated the top three teams in the league by a combined 35 points. None of the games were particularly close as New York's offense continued to be efficient and its defense smothering at times.

"We know who we are physically, we know who we are role-wise, we know who we are as a basketball team," Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer told swishappeal.com. "Now it's about every minute of every play and bringing that focus for 40 minutes."

The Indiana Fever, who have lost four straight, set a record against Minnesota on Friday -- a dubious mark they'd rather not be associated with. Indiana was outscored 37-0 in the first half and went on to lose 111-52, the 59-point margin being the worst in WNBA history.

To make matters worse, the Fever (9-21) were eliminated from any chance of making the postseason -- a bitter pill to swallow for a franchise that had made the postseason a league record 12 straight times.

"I mean, I've never not made the playoffs since I've been here," guard Jeanette Pohlen-Mavunga, who is in her sixth season with the Fever, told the Indianapolis Star. "It's new territory, kind of trying to feel it out. We'll play hard the rest of the season. Play for pride, really."

The Fever are playing for pride while New York (17-12) on Sunday clinched a playoff berth. Laimbeer still was a little salty after the win.

"Making the playoffs? It doesn't mean a damn thing," he told Newsday. "We were expecting to make the playoffs. ... Big deal. There are bigger things out there."

After a midseason funk, the Liberty have turned things around with just five games left in the regular season and are peaking at the right time.

On Monday, Tina Charles was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the fifth time this season and record 26th time since joining the league in 2010.

Charles ranked first among East players in scoring (21.5 points per game), tied for second in rebounding (8.0) and seventh in field-goal percentage (51.6, 16-of-31).

Injuries have played a big role in the Fever's struggles this season, and on Monday Indiana lost guard Briann January for the rest of the season with a torn meniscus.

She is the third Indiana guard, joining Shenise Johnson and Tiffany Mitchell, to have her season cut short due to injury.

The Fever signed rookie guard Jennie Simms to replace January for the final two weeks of the season. The Old Dominion product was a second-round draft pick (18th overall) of the Washington Mystics in April.

She played 10 games with the Mystics through July 16.

In two previous meetings this season, the Liberty have been victorious both times. New York overcame a 15-point, second-half deficit for a one-point win on July 28. On Aug. 8, New York held on for a five-point win.

Candace Dupree is averaging 14.0 points per game against the Liberty this season, while Charles has tallied an average of 25.5 while and shooting 50 percent from the field in two games against the Fever.

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