Clock ticking on stars' season, career

Tamika Catchings' Fever trail 1-0 to Detroit, while Lisa Leslie's Sparks are down 1-0 against Phoenix. AP Photo, Getty Images

Indiana's Tamika Catchings had that, "Jeez, I feel like I'm 130 years old," look on the sidelines Wednesday night against Detroit.

She is, in fact, 100 years younger than that, still in the prime of her career and one of the top candidates for the WNBA's MVP this season. But this problem with the Shock … for Catchings, it's really getting old.

Out in Los Angeles later Wednesday night, there were times when Lisa Leslie -- and really, the whole Sparks crew -- looked a bit weary running wind sprints with Phoenix.

Friday night, Catchings and Leslie each face the potential "end" -- of the season for Catch and of a career for Leslie. The WNBA conference finals each have their Game 2 matchups back at the home of the better seed, and it might be a landmark night for the league.

Because it could be the official goodbye to Leslie, who has more points and rebounds than anyone in league history. (She's second in blocks to Margo Dydek, who at 7 feet, 2 inches really should have that record.)

Leslie played what might have been her final game in her hometown of Los Angeles on Wednesday, a 103-94 loss to the Mercury, who had the best record in the league this season.

Leslie had 19 points and eight rebounds. It says everything about Phoenix's offensive firepower that all three of the Sparks' stars -- Leslie, Tina Thompson and Candace Parker -- had very good games, yet L.A. still couldn't beat Phoenix.

Friday, the Sparks have to find a way to defend better on the perimeter, as Phoenix hit 14 3-pointers against them in Game 1.

The Sparks are in a difficult position: It's a team with a ton of talent, but its most shaky position is point guard. Kristi Harrower is more experienced, but Noelle Quinn is more talented.

Quinn never has thought of herself as a natural point guard, but she has embraced the role in the WNBA as best she can. Whether that is the long-term position for her remains to be seen based on what the Sparks' personnel is next year. But for now, she seems the best option.

L.A. really didn't need much scoring from its reserve guards, Betty Lennox and Shannon Bobbitt. Instead it needed better decision-making and more help on defense. Bobbitt really didn't do much besides annoy the heck out of Sparks fans in her less than four minutes on the court.

Leslie is the Sparks player who has officially announced her retirement, although there have been questions for a while now about how much longer Thompson wants to play. In her first season in L.A. after 12 seasons in Houston, she has been a glue force for the Sparks and is still a very valuable player -- especially now at do-or-die time.

Too much emotion can overwhelm a team, but the Sparks don't seem likely to get weepy, to say the least. They seem more the type to get steely in the face of elimination, and that's why it should be a pretty epic showdown Friday night in Phoenix.

L.A. faced an elimination game in Seattle in the first round and played exceptionally well. But in this case, even if the Sparks play that well again and win Friday, they then face elimination one more time in Game 3 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Catchings and the Fever also are in the same position, except they are at home instead of on the road. As good as Indiana was for much of this season, putting together the second-best record in the regular season, the past few weeks have been taxing.

Indy's 72-56 loss to Detroit on Wednesday was the Fever's eighth defeat in their past 13 games. Part of this is that with the way scheduling worked out, the Fever haven't been playing much in Indianapolis in September. Just three of Indy's nine games this month have been at home.

Will Conseco Fieldhouse provide enough of an advantage for the Fever to overcome the Shock? One thing's for sure, Indiana has to play with more energy and focus than it did Wednesday -- and it can't let the "past" become too big a millstone.

Which is easier said than done. Considering Detroit has eliminated Indiana the past three years, the Shock might have become something of a mental block -- no matter how hard the Fever players try to avoid thinking of it that way.

And the only "cure" is to beat Detroit. But that's going to take a better offensive effort. Catchings had just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting, and the Fever's bench provided little besides Briann January's seven points and five rebounds.

So Friday is like an NCAA tournament night for the Fever and the Sparks: win or be done.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.