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Liberty visit Washington DC to take on the Mystics

Washington Mystics v Connecticut Sun Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome back to the winner's circle! After a long, frustrating, seven game losing streak, the New York Liberty are back to feeling good after beating the Indiana Fever on Wednesday night at Barclays Center. When you’ve been struggling, a win always lifts your spirits and get you feeling good.

The opponent tonight will be the Washington Mystics. Mike Thibault and friends are back in contention and hope to have a banner season. They’ve been off since Tuesday after beating the Fever in Indiana.

Where to follow the game

YES Network app and Twitter have us covered. Tip after 7 p.m.

Injuries

No Betnijah Laney, Didi Richards, or Jocelyn Willoughby.

Alysha Clark is in health and safety protocols and out.

The game

One of the game’s greatest players is back. After essentially two years away, Elena Delle Donne is back for the Mystics and playing at a high level. EDD is eighth in the WNBA in scoring at 17.9 points a game on a .484/.371/.833 shooting split. The team has been very careful in managing her minutes and games played as she has spent the past few years dealing with back issues. Over at Swish Appeal, Josh Felton made an incredibly interesting point:

This lack of rim pressure does have an impact on the entire team’s offense. With Delle Donne on the court, the Mystics are at their lowest point when it comes to rim shot frequency (22.4%) and at their highest when she is not on the floor (32.4%).

The rim pressure Delle Donne once had earlier in her career hasn’t been there and as a result the team takes more perimeter shots than usual with her on the floor. This has been a problem for the Mystics at some points in the season. Settling for perimeter looks when the shots aren’t falling has bogged down the offense at times, but if your best player is making threes at a very effective mark, it may not matter in the long run.

So far the Delle Donne minutes have paid dividends for the Mystics, but the rim shot frequency discrepancy is something to look out for.

As Delle Donne continues to regain her strength and footing in the game, we’ll see how the shot distribution looks.

For the Liberty, Natasha Howard will look to make things tough on EDD tonight. Howard has been on a great tear as of late as she’s averaged 15 points and six rebounds on a .588/.471/.800 shooting split. The turnovers have been an issue (almost four a game) and she’s got to make sure she takes great care of the ball.

Speaking of turnovers, that may decide tonight’s game. The Liberty are second worst in the WNBA in turnovers and the ‘stics are second best at forcing turnovers. The Liberty won Wednesday’s game in part thanks to how great they were at taking care of the ball, and they’re going to need to have that same level of care tonight if they want to win.

The Mystics have a solid rookie big in Shakira Austin. She only plays 20 minutes a night, but makes the most out of them as she’s averaging close to six rebounds a night while shooting 59.7 percent from the field. She can hit the occasional jumper, but just about all of her offense comes at the rim as she wreaks havoc on the offensive boards. Stef Dolson, Han Xu, and Lorela Cubaj will battle Austin and the other Mystics on the boards tonight. Dolson had a wonderful all around game on Wednesday as her 16-8-7 opened things up for the Liberty. Han is an automatic bucket off of the bench and with this being her second game back from concussion protocol, Cubaj will have an opportunity to have a bigger impact on this game.

Player to watch: Natasha Cloud

On Wednesday night, the Liberty held a moment of silence prior to the start of the game to address the latest wave of gun violence in the United States. Perhaps no athlete in American sports has used their platform to address gun violence more than Natasha Cloud. Cloud has worked on the issue for years and recently, spoke about what she would like her peers in the sports world to do discuss the issue of gun violence:

“I would like the [Washington Capitals] to step up. I would like other sports teams to step up. I would like the [Washington Nationals] to step up. It’s time. It’s time that our white counterparts also step up. It’s not just us Black athletes that need to step up and use our voices. It’s also our white counterparts, our white male counterparts, since your voices are heard, mostly.”

Agreed.

During the winter, Cloud starred in Athletes Unlimited, a new sports league that allowed women athletes the opportunity to compete at home instead of having to travel abroad. Cloud spoke about how AU provides opportunities for players who otherwise wouldn’t get a shot in the WNBA due to roster constrictions and said:

“It’s so hard to not only get in our league (the WNBA) but it’s even harder to stay in our league, because there are not enough roster spots. So Athletes Unlimited presents a different aspect, a different look … We’re going to give players opportunities to be able to show off their talent. I do hope that in doing so that will lead to more opportunities for them moving forward.”

Cloud is such a great ambassador for the game of basketball and here’s hoping others follow her lead on and off the court.

For as dope as Cloud is off the court, she’s just as awesome on the court. She’s having the best season of her career as she’s averaging career highs in points and assists. Cloud is great attacking off the dribble and getting downhill

and the Liberty will do their best to keep her on the perimeter. If they can do that, they’ll have an opportunity to short-circuit the Mystics offense.

Sabrina Ionescu will look to follow up on her excellent game on Wednesday night. Sabrina had 23 points and seven assists as she started at shooting guard tonight. With another ballhandler in the starting five in Crystal Dangerfield, Ionescu can focus more on scoring and getting her shots up. Having another capable ballhandler in the starting five will take pressure off of Ionescu, help ensure the team takes good care of the ball, and allows their scorers to focus more on getting buckets than initiating offense.

From the Vault

Over in the NHL, the New York Rangers are in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers and Caps faced off a bunch in the mid 2010s, so let’s take a look back at one memorable moment

More reading: Bullets Forever, Swish Appeal, and The Next