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Liberty try to keep playoff hopes alive against red-hot Sun

Minnesota Lynx v Connecticut Sun Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s never a good time for a losing streak. That said, a losing streak late in the year as you’re fighting to make it to the playoffs is the absolute worst thing! The New York Liberty put forth another good effort, but they once again fell apart late in the fourth quarter and suffered a debilitating loss to the Dallas Wings on Saturday night. The win put Dallas into the playoffs and handed the Liberty their seventh straight loss and eighth in the last nine. It’s gonna take a miracle to get into the playoffs now.

On the other side, it must be great to be heading into postseason play playing your best ball of the season. Outside of a blowout loss to the Seattle Storm in the Commissioner’s Cup, the Connecticut Sun have been on a remarkable pace. They’ve clinched the overall No. 1 seed for the playoffs and have been on an absolute tear. They ended the Phoenix Mercury’s ten-game winning streak with a nine-point win on Saturday night. The W extended Connecticut’s own winning streak to 12 games and now that they have that one seed (and a double bye) locked up, might be in the business of managing minutes this final week of the season. A win tonight would set the franchise record for longest winning streak in team history.

Where to follow the game

CBS Sports Network on TV. Tip off after 7 PM.

Injuries

Jocelyn Willoughby is out. This is the cleanest injury sheet of the year.

Alyssa Thomas has been upgraded to probable and might be making her season debut. She had been out all year due to an Achilles injury. She’s still got torn labrums in both shoulders but it won’t stop her from playing and competing.

The game

Connecticut took game one in June and game two in July.

Here are the playoff standings as we enter into action tonight:

8. Washington

9. Los Angeles

10. New York

Specifically, the Liberty are a full game behind the Mystics. Both have two games to go, with the two teams facing off Friday night in Brooklyn, the Libs’ last home game of the regular season.

All eyes will be on this one as it’s the only game on the schedule tonight.

It appears that the losing streak is taking its toll on the Liberty players, and for a youngish team, things look bleak. That said, they still have a chance so they can’t sink into the sadness too much. The fight isn’t over yet so they have to pick themselves up off the mat.

There are two ways to look at Sabrina Ionescu’s game on Saturday. One way is to note that she got to the basket a lot more as nine of her 17 shot attempts were in the painted area. The other way is to see that she was cold once again from 3-point range as she only went 1-of-6 from downtown. Since the break, her 3-point attempts have gone up and her percentages have gone way down. Getting to and finishing at the rim promises to be a lot more difficult tonight, but she’s got to keep at it if she wants to guide the team to a win.

The Sun are a gigantic force in the WNBA, and it shows in the rebounding numbers. They lead the W in rebounding and feature two players in the top 10. NY is near the bottom of the league on the boards so it’s going to take a team effort tonight to keep it close. That starts with Natasha Howard. The Liberty changed the starting lineup, starting Rebecca Allen over Michaela Onyenwere. They actually won the rebounding battle over the Wings (second in the league in rebounding) so maybe that’s a good sign for this one.

This one might veer a bit to the sloppy side. These teams are Nos. 1 and 2 in turnover rate, but in the Liberty’s defense, it’s gotten a LOT better than where they were at the beginning of the season. Against a great team like Connecticut, they’re going to need to make the most out of every single possession if they want to pull off the upset and keep their playoff chances alive.

Coach Walt Hopkins recently spoke to The Next Hoops’ Jackie Powell and had this to say about Allen:

“It’s clear that Bec is going to be one of the more valuable players in the league. But I think it’s just a matter of the consistency that separates. So it’s like what we talked about with our team. It’s like if Bec gets consistent with all these behaviors on both ends of the court—which she has been in this stretch—once that continues, I think that’s going to continue to rise in terms of how much she can contribute.”

A key part of consistency is how you bounce back from a rough night. Allen had a poor outing in Dallas, but has been solid on the whole this year. They’re going to need her size to battle on the boards, active hands in forcing turnovers, and a few knock down threes as well.

Player to watch: Jonquel Jones

Say hello to the MVP. Jones has been outstanding this year and currently is fourth in the league in scoring, tops in rebounds, and 14th in blocks. Jones was named to the All Star team this year as well and put on a heck of a show during the Three Point Contest

She’s got some unfinished playoff business awaiting her so look for her to be in tip top form once the stakes get higher.

Betnijah Laney had her best game in a while. Saturday was the first time she shot over 50 percent from the field since July and after coughing it up nine times against the Storm, only turned it over once. The ball needs to be in her hands as much as possible and the team has to trust that she’s going to make something happen. DeWanna Bonner and the Sun defense have made life tough on Laney this year, but now that Ionescu and Howard are fully healthy (or as close to it as can be expected), that might open some things up for Laney. Any little bit helps at this point.

From the Vault

It was Hall of Fame weekend and one of the new inductees was former WNBA Commissioner, Val Ackerman. Let’s watch her speech:

More reading: Swish Appeal