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Liberty beat Wings, 88-81, at Barclays for best start since 2007

Dallas Wings v New York Liberty Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

After beating the Chicago Sky on the road on Sunday afternoon, the New York Liberty came home to face the Dallas Wings tonight. Walt Hopkins’ club was able to keep the home winning streak going with a win against the Dallas Wings tonight at Barclays Center.

And now, one year after going 2-20 in the WNBA “wubble” last season, the Libs are 5-1. Only the powerhouse Connecticut Sun (5-0) have a better record. It’s also New York’s best start since 2007.

The team was paced by the duo of Betnijah Laney and Natasha Howard, both acquired in the off-season, Laney signed as a free agent Howard in a sign-and-trade. In her home debut, Howard scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds in 22 minutes of game action.

However, the concern tonight is Howard’s health after she left the game in the fourth. She and Dallas’ Tyasha Harris knocked knees. The Next Hoops’ Jackie Powell observed that Howard came back to the Liberty bench after being able to walk to the locker room on her own power.

Hopkins spoke about Howard’s injury post game, but said he didn’t have anything to report and will await test results before deciding what’s next with his star center.

“As of now we got nothing,” said Hopkins. “We’re gonna get some tests done tomorrow and we have our fingers crossed.”

Laney continued to pace New York’s scoring attack, finishing with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-15 overall, 1-of-3 from downtown. It was the Rutgers product’s sixth straight game with 20+ points, placing fifth on the all-time list for most games with 20 or more to begin a WNBA season.

Laney only made a 3-pointer tonight as she did most of her damage in the low post and paint area. Laney, signed to a three-year deal in the off-season, has provided the scoring punch that has allowed the Libs to exceed all expectations thus far.

In a post-game interview with Chris Shearn, Laney described the team’s maturity in surviving the Wings’ big fourth quarter run.

The big number for the Liberty tonight, however, was one. One being the number of turnovers they committed in the second half after coughing it up 12 times before intermission and 22 in Sunday’s win over the Chicago Sky. On the season, the Libs are second in the WNBA in turnover rate as they’ve often been loose with the basketball. In keeping their turnovers down, they were able to reduce Dallas’ easy scoring opportunities. Dallas had 13 points off of Liberty turnovers in the first half. In the second half? Three.

The Liberty went down early, having played on Sunday night in Chicago, but went on an 18-2 run between the second and third quarters, going up to stay.

“We’ve been tough and gritty and able to withstand teams’ runs sometimes,” said Sami Whitcomb, who like Laney and Howard, came to New York in the off-season. “I think we did a really good job of that this game. For us to go on those runs, particularly when we’re tired... it was critical for us.”

Coming into the game, we discussed the league’s leading scorer, Arike Ogunbowale. Ogunbowale just wasn’t able to get anything going as 6-20 represents her worst shooting performance from the field this season. The work of Laney, Didi Richards, and Rebecca Allen deserves some love as they were able to force the Star into difficult, well contested shots all game long. It got frustrating enough for Ogunbowale that she got herself a technical foul late as the Liberty pulled away.

It wasn’t a showcase game for Sabrina Ionescu, but she finished strong and helped push the team to the victory. She scored 10 points in the final five minutes and her personal 8-0 run sealed the win.

Despite the change in state arena capacity rules, only 894 fans attended the game in Brooklyn. Of course, the game had been moved up due to a conflict with the Nets on Tuesday. A better test will come Saturday when the Liberty welcome the Atlanta Dream.

Sabrina Ionescu honored

Earlier Monday, the WNBA named Sabrina Ionescu the Player of the Week for the Eastern Conference in the season’s first week.

No surprise. Ionescu had a triple double and a buzzer beater in Week 1.

What’s next?

The Liberty will be off for a few days before returning to action on Saturday afternoon at home against Chennedy Carter and the Atlanta Dream.

The game also takes on some extra importance as Laney will be taking on her former team. It will also be a chance for the Liberty to move up in WNBA Power Rankings. Before Monday’s win, they were third behind the Sun and defending champion Seattle Storm.