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Liberty begin second half of the season vs. Lynx

Women’s Basketball Medal Ceremony - Olympics: Day 16 Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After a nice little break, we’re back! With the Olympics concluded, the New York Liberty resume their quest to make their first playoff appearance since the 2017 season. They are currently in sixth place and hope that the second half of the season will be a great one. When we last saw them, they lost to the Connecticut Sun at Barclays Center to close out the first half of the season.

The opponent tonight will be the Minnesota Lynx. Cheryl Reeve has got her squad in a good position and are hoping to go on a deep playoff run. They last played on July 11 and beat the Los Angeles Sparks by 25 points. They are currently riding a seven game winning streak.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and Facebook are the places to be. Tip off after 7 p.m. ET.

Injuries

Might we be seeing the return of Natasha Howard? The star Liberty big has been out with a knee injury, but has been working her way back into the lineup. There was hope she’d play against Connecticut, but she didn’t play. Early Saturday, she was upgraded and should be available. A BIG deal for Liberty. Howard is a three-time champ with the Seattle Storm the 2019 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. She joined the Liberty in the off-season, their big off-season addition.

Rebecca Allen should be back as her Olympic responsibilities have concluded. Jocelyn Willoughby is out, but is out of her walking boot.

Aerial Powers is out indefinitely due to a thumb injury. Rennia Davis is out for the season. Natalie Achonwa is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Crystal Dangerfield is questionable with a shoulder injury.

The game

The Liberty won the first meeting back in May. They wrap up their season on August 31 in Minnesota.

We’ve got a gold medalist in the building! Sylvia Fowles was in Tokyo repping the United States and came home with her fourth gold medal. With a jampacked front court, Fowles didn’t play that much (10 minutes per game) as compared to her usual WNBA run. Now that she’s back, she’ll be going for her usual 30+ minutes a night. Fowles is a dynamo in the paint as she’s made 73 percent of her shots at the rim, well above the league average of 59.4 percent. She is also third in the W in rebounding, which is particularly troublesome for a Liberty team that is second to last in rebounding.

With Howard back in the fold, the Liberty’s attack will take flight. Howard provides great rebounding and passing at the center position and allows for Kylee Shook and Reshanda Gray to slide down in the rotation some.

For as solid as the first half was, the Liberty were hoping for even more. Here’s coach Walt Hopkins:

“No doubt 10 wins are great. It’s a good start. But we are all convinced that we could have had at least three that could have put us in a good place to take a break. They were controllable.”

A good season will turn into a great one if they can sneak into the playoffs.

Now that she’s further away from her injury, the minutes restrictions might be off for Sabrina Ionescu. The most she’s played since coming back in mid June were 29 minutes against the Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream. She struggled to close out the first half as she went 2-13 in two losses to the Indiana Fever and Sun. Having her on the court is a win in and of itself and now that she’s had a month to heal up, relax, and get back in the swing of things, she should take flight as the Liberty head into the stretch run.

Being out with injury is never fun, and when you’re a rookie, it becomes even more stressful. Lynx 2021 draft pick Rennia Davis spoke about that with Katie Heindl of Uproxx and said:

“It helps being on a team full of vets because most of them have been through this process. Obviously not all of them have had a stress fracture, but something that set them down for a minute. This is my first time having to be without basketball for an extended period of time. So just being around this group, it just helps.

If I’m like, I’m not going, because I’ve become a hassle at this point, they’re like ‘No, you’re going, you’re going. It’s cool, it’s good. You’re going. Sometimes the scooter and the crutches can become a hassle for me, so I don’t want to be a hassle for other people. But they’ve been very adamant about making sure I’m still included. That’s been helping me mentally too, that I’m on a team with people that want me around. That’s huge. And they haven’t played with me yet, so they want me around for more than just basketball reasons, so, that feels good to me.”

We’ll be seeing an old friend of ours tonight. Layshia Clarendon has been running point for Cheryl Reeve’s squad since coming over as a hardship exception. They have been doing a good job of coordinating the Lynx offense as they’ve been averaging a team leading 5.5 assists a game. The turnovers are a usual bugaboo, but it hasn’t hurt the Lynx too much.

Clarendon has also remained a tremendous advocate for trans people in sports and in society. They are participating in a panel with news site The 19th on 8/17/21 to discuss ender inclusivity in sports. You should watch and attend the event online. It’s going to be fantastic.

Player to watch: Napheesa Collier

When you’re on a stacked team, someone’s gonna get the short end on the minutes side. Across the six games, she only played 15 minutes and received two DNPs-coach’s decision along the way. It’s like that, but the opportunity to train, practice with, and soak up game from the game’s greatest players is always a good thing.

Collier heated up prior to the Olympic break. During the seven game winning streak, Collier is averaging 16.7 points a night and 6.6 rebounds on a .512/.273/.897 shooting split. Collier does so much damage in the low post and having another solid interior scorer like her will make Minnesota an incredibly difficult opponent come playoff time.

Betnijah Laney will be looking to get back on her All-WNBA groove today. The Queen Bee received a well deserved honor of being named to the WNBA all star game and had a nice showing for herself in Vegas against the US Women’s Olympic Team. Now that she’s back with the main club, she’ll look to get them off to a good start to the stretch run. Like a lot of players on the Liberty, she struggled against the Sun and the hope is she’ll bounce back. She’s been the team’s best, most consistent player in 2021 so I wouldn’t count her out.

From the Vault

Rest in peace to Chucky Thompson

More reading: Swish Appeal and Canis Hoopus