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Liberty goes for fourth win in five games vs. Fever

Indiana Fever v Connecticut Sky Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s all good. Okay, Betnijah Laney and Jocelyn Willoughby are still out for a while, and Didi Richards is progressing but the Liberty appear to be hitting their stride, winners of three of their last four with Sabarina Ionescu on a career-level tear. The third-year star is averaging 26/5/5 in that stretch. Moreover, Marine Johannes, who spent the last two years playing in her native France, has returned to the Liberty and will be available vs. the Fever Friday night in Indiana, giving New York another offensive weapon until Laney and Willoughby return.

Where to follow the game

YES Network app. Tip after 7:00 p.m. ET

Injuries

No Didi Richards (hamstring), Betnijah Laney (right knee), or Jocelyn Willoughby (left knee.) Richards appears closest but not tonight.

No injuries to report for the Fever.

The game

First things first: Sabrina Ionescu is playing the best basketball of her career, period. Before the most recent four-game stretch, the overall No. 1 pick in 2020 had never put together back-to-back 20-point games. Friday, she will go for five straight. Indeed, her last two games have been stunning. She’s scored 57 points on 23-of-35 shooting, including 7-of-15 from deep. In Tuesday’s game, she became the first WNBA player to shoot better than 90 percent while registering 25 or more points, eight or more assists and eight or more rebounds. And she hasn’t missed a free throw in four games, hitting all 19 shots she’s taken.

And now, she’ll be getting some help with the addition of Marine Johannes, who will be available for the first time since 2019. She played two years with Lyon in the Women’s Euroleague, averaging 13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists this season and 7.2 points, 2.4 assists and 1.8 boards in 2019 when she last played for New York.

She was asked at Thursday’s practice what she can bring to the Liberty...

We don’t know much time she’ll get Friday night, but overall, she’ll help make up for the losses of Laney and Willoughby, both proven WNBA scorers.

Adding to the good news for Liberty fans is the emergence of Han Xu, the WNBA’s tallest player at 6’10”. She had her best game vs. the Lynx Tuesday scoring 15 points and grabbing five rebounds in 25 minutes. She’s now averaging 10 and five off the bench.

Finally, after the series of moves they made Wednesday — signing Johannes and trading Asia Durr to her hometown of Atlanta for a draft stash — New York signed point guard Crystal Dangerfield to another hardship contract. The 2020 WNBA Rookie of the Year is getting a lot of credit for the Liberty turnaround. After New York lost seven straight, Coach Sandy Brondello moved Ionescu from the point to shooting guard and installed Dangerfield, more of a pure passer, to the 1.

The Fever, on the other hand, are the WNBA’s worst team with a 3-11 record, 1-9 in the last 10 and losers of four straight. In that 10-game stretch, they are averaging 78.8 points on offense while giving up 90.0 on defense.

Of course, you can always say they are due and two nights ago, they hung with the league’s best team, the Connecticut Sun, for three quarters before collapsing again. The experienced Sun simply never let the young Fever gain enough momentum to go on a run.

Danielle Robinson, the Fever’s most experienced vet, explained how the experience gap affected the flow of the game.

“I was a rookie once and I understand that there’s a lot being thrown at them, offensively, defensively, new terminology, schemes,” Danielle Robinson told the Indianapolis Star.

“So I mean it’s frustrating to lose for sure, but I think that they’re getting more and more comfortable every single game, knowing personnel, knowing what they need to do. Obviously, it’s not resulting in wins right now, but there’s a level to it. I’ve been in the league, I know the players, I know almost any term any coach or team has thrown at me from my experiences and they’re just not there yet.”

Player to watch: Kelsey Mitchell

Kelsey Mitchell is a legitimate WNBA scorer. She ranks fourth in the WNBA averaging 18.7 points per game and is one of the game’s top 3-point shooters at 39.5 percent. She has a good chance at being the Fever’s sole rep in the WNBA All-Star game despite the team’s tough times.

She is also becoming a leader. In fact, Mitchell recently called the team “soft” and “real casual.”

“We gon’ be the last team on the board again or we can buy in,” she said. “And that’s just where we at.

“For us it’s all about mentality right now. We’re real loose, we’re real casual, we’re lackadaisical and we soft. And that has nothing to do with any ability on the court, anything you can practice.”

Asked what needs to be done, Mitchell offered, “We just express to one another that you either buy in or you get out. Myself included. If I can’t give everything I’ve got to give, then don’t play. ... And it’s raw and uncut right now, but that’s what we need. There’s no more sugar-coating losing.”

It may very well be a scoring contest Friday night between her and Ionescu who’s ninth in the league averaging 17.1 points per game but obviously moving up.

From the Vault

It’s only been three days since Sabrina put up those classic numbers, but her performance was so classic that it’s worth another look.

More reading: Swish Appeal, Indy Cornrows