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Playoff seeding on line as Liberty host Mystics

No team is playing better than the New York Liberty.

While winning six straight games, the Liberty have defeated the league's top three teams -- Minnesota, Los Angeles and Connecticut.

The late season push toward the postseason has sent a message that has been heard loud and clear across the entire WNBA landscape: The Liberty are a championship-caliber team that no one really wants to face right now.

But someone has to and the WNBA schedule makers deserve a pat on the back for giving fans Friday's tasty morsel between the Liberty and Washington Mystics at Madison Square Garden in a game with serious playoff implications. New York at 18-12 is one-half game ahead of 17-12 Washington for the fourth seed in the playoffs.

New York coach Bill Laimbeer doesn't think his squad has accomplished anything that hasn't been expected.

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

Friday's game would be a big step toward the bigger prize.

The two teams have split a pair of games, meaning Friday's game will determine the head-to-head tiebreaker. The difference between the fourth and fifth seed is the fourth seed earns a bye into the second round.

Safe to say both teams realize what is at stake.

Washington has been able to remain in the thick of the playoff hunt despite not having All-Star Elene Della Donne for the past nine games after she injured her thumb and had surgery.

She is listed as questionable for Friday and a matchup against fellow All-Star Tina Charles, who leads the Liberty with 19.8 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game. When healthy, Delle Donne is scoring at an 18.8 ppg clip.

The Mystics have five regular-season games remaining, while the Liberty have four. Washington last played on Sunday and defeated Indiana to snap a two-game losing streak, which included a 33-point loss to Los Angeles.

Mystics' coach Mike Thibault hopes his team learned valuable lesson in the blowout loss.

"We got schooled," he told The Washington Post. "Both ends of the floor. All the reasons why they're champions showed up tonight, and why we're not there yet showed up, too."

New York whipped Indiana on Wednesday, getting 13 points and nine rebounds from Charles in a 71-50 rout.

While Minnesota's Sylvia Fowles is the front-runner to earn league MVP honors, Charles has inserted herself in the conversation over the past six games. She's averaging 19.7 points and 7.8 rebounds during the winning streak and also is the current Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

New York's offense, which underwent a midseason shake-up, has been steady of late. What can't be overlooked is that the Liberty have found an identity on defense and lead the league in defensive field goal percentage at .408.

The playoff-like atmosphere at the Garden should help both teams as they prepare for the postseason.

"Each (remaining game) of these are one-game playoff games," Washington's Krystal Thomas said. "We have to get a couple tiebreakers against some teams coming up, so yeah. One-game playoffs,"

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