After seven consecutive losing seasons, the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Sky find themselves on the verge of the first playoff berth in team history.
The Sky can lock up a postseason spot with a win over the visiting New York Liberty, who could be without Cappie Pondexter as they try to avoid a five-game season sweep Friday night.A winner in five of six, Chicago (18-8) reduced its magic number to one with a 79-73 victory at Washington on Tuesday. Star rookie Elena Della Donne returned from injury to score 24 points while Courtney Vandersloot added a season-high 19 to go along with seven assists.Sylvia Fowles scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds."We want to make history," said Delle Donne, who missed the previous two games with a sprained left foot. "I think adrenaline takes over and you don't feel any pain anymore. I was happy to see that I wasn't favoring my foot or anything like that."The Sky, who joined the WNBA in 2006, had never previously finished with more than 16 wins."Obviously for the franchise, the fans, these players, it's huge," coach Pokey Chatman said. "I won't try to minimize it, (but) it won't change how we approach things (against the Liberty) ... It's huge and we just have to make sure we get it the next time out."The Sky have dominated the Liberty (10-15) this season, taking all four matchups by an average of 18.3 points. Chicago most recently swept a home-and-home set, winning 75-55 at New York on July 18 and 80-69 two days later."I know in the course of a season just by experience, every team has their number on a team," Pondexter said after scoring 22 in the second of those defeats. "It happens. This is how basketball is."New York is hoping to avoid a season high-tying third consecutive loss after getting blown out 88-57 at Minnesota on Sunday. Katie Smith and Alex Montgomery each scored a team-high 11 points for the Liberty, who were limited to 31.3 percent from the field with Pondexter out due to a bruised left heel."Overall we competed to a point," said coach Bill Laimbeer, whose team dropped one game behind Washington for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East.Laimbeer was fined an undisclosed amount Thursday after criticizing the Lynx for keeping Maya Moore in the game late in the fourth quarter with her team comfortably ahead.Pondexter is averaging 18.7 points to rank third in the league, just ahead of Delle Donne's 18.5.Fowles has averaged 21.0 points in her last five games, 4.3 above her season mark. Fowles leads the WNBA in field-goal percentage (58.1) and rebounds (11.9).