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Liberty start three game road trip in LA vs. the Sparks

Minnesota Lynx v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Three seconds away, but not there. The New York Liberty had a chance to close June out on a high, but the Atlanta Dream ruined the party and handed the hometown a rough loss on Thursday night. Tonight is the first leg of a three game road trip that will carry them into the All Star break. A nice stretch of ball would help the team feel good as they head into the back portion of the season.

The opponent this Fourth of July eve will be the Los Angeles Sparks. There were great expectations for the club this year, but they haven't met them as of yet. However, they might be on the right track. They were on the road Friday night and beat the Dallas Wings, 97-89. The win was the 500th in franchise history and they are the first WNBA team to reach that milestone.

Where to follow the game

CBS Sports Network is the place to be. Tip after 6:00 p.m. ET


Betnijah Laney is out. Jocelyn Willoughby is getting closer, but won’t be playing today. Sami Whitcomb is getting a rest day. Rebecca Allen is in return to play protocol and is listed as probable.

Brittney Sykes is in health and safety protocols and out for this game. Rae Burrell is out with a knee injury.

The game

After a tumultuous start, the Sparks fired head coach and general manager, Derek Fisher. Fred Williams is the interim head coach, but when the season wraps up, he’ll take over as the head coach for the Auburn Women’s Basketball team. Los Angeles is a glamour city and if you can get the Sparks back to contention, you’ll be made. LA is a basketball city and if you’re good, they love you.

Crystal Dangerfield ought to be back, and not a moment too soon. The Liberty missed having her initiate the offense and handle ball handling duties. With her back on the squad, the team has more playmaking at their disposal and can spread the work around.

If Rebecca Allen is back today, it gives the Libs another good player and someone else that can lock down elite perimeter players. Marine Johannes has admirably done the job and Didi Richards is slowly finding her groove after dealing with a hamstring injury. With Allen back, the Liberty defense has the potential to get even better.

We freed Chennedy Carter, but she's not playing as much as you would think. LA has a lot of guards, and that's left Hollywood on the bench. With Sykes out, Carter will play and one thing she’s great at is breaking defenders down off the dribble and getting to the basket:

Carter’s jump shot isn’t there yet, but this is only her third year in the league, first on a new team, and first full season in two years. Give her time and she’ll figure it out.

Let's have some fun with schedules! Tonight is the first game of a seven game home stand for the Sparks, the first leg of a back to back, and tomorrow night's holiday game against the Phoenix Mercury will be their third game in four nights. Earlier in the season, the Sparks spent so much time on the road because schedule makers (rightfully, I would say) assumed Staples Center wouldn't be available in May and June due to the NBA playoffs. However, to our surprise, the Los Angeles Lakers sucked and the Los Angeles Clippers were a Paul George COVID diagnosis away from getting out of the play in and making the playoffs. Those are the breaks sometimes.

Nneka Ogwumike is back, and heading to Chicago for the All Star Game. After Friday’s game, she was asked about how media can be advocates to get better coverage of the WNBA and its players. Here’s how she answered:

Agreed. There are so many wonderful sites that cover the WNBA (see at the end of this story) and the game needs even more of them.

With Ogwumike back, the Sparks have an elite post scorer, pick and roll partner, and someone that can finish on the move. Her Team Wilson teammate, Natasha Howard, will look to slow her down tonight. Howard does everything for the team and will look to keep Ogwumike off the boards while challenging her at the rim. We’ve got a good battle on our hands.

The turnover battle will be key tonight. The Liberty cut down on the turnovers dramatically in June after a disastrous May as they had the fourth lowest turnover rate in the W last month. The Sparks had the fourth highest opponent’s turnover rate in June, so whoever takes care of the ball has a chance to set the tempo in their direction.

Without Sykes, LA has one less defender to throw at Sabrina Ionescu. Great thing about Sab is that even when her shots aren’t falling, she’s doing everything else on the court to help the team win. Whether finding teammates on the move, playing the passing lanes and getting steals, or bringing the passion and intensity when the team is down, Ionescu is doing everything you want your franchise player to do.

Player to watch: Liz Cambage

When you think of pro basketball history in Los Angeles, you think of the bigs. Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Shaquille O'Neal. Lisa Leslie. Candace Parker. Pau Gasol. Anthony Davis. And now, Liz Cambage hopes to follow in the tradition. Cambage left the Las Vegas Aces as a free agent over the winter and turned LA into Liz Angeles.

The big controversy surrounding Cambage stemmed from reports that she allegedly called Nigerian women's basketball players racial slurs during a scrimmage last year when she was a member of the Australian Olympic team. Cambage is no longer on that team, Australian head coach (and our head coach!) Sandy Brondello isn’t commenting on it, and that’s it for now.

On the court, Cambage is still a battering ram on the inside. She’s shooting 68 percent inside of the restricted area and is fourth in free throw attempts a game. It takes a total team effort to slow down a star like this and it’s gonna be all hands on deck for the Liberty tonight. Cambage has been turning the ball over at the highest rate since her days way, way back with the Tulsa Shock. Look for Brondello to throw a series of double teams at her to force her into mistakes.

Stef Dolson will be first up to battle with Cambage on the inside. Dolson has helped the Liberty offense get out of the mud with her passing and her screening, as Sabreena Merchant of Swish Appeal noted:

Dolson doesn’t stop screening either, often re-screening during the same possession when an initial action doesn’t yield the desired result. She’s a good case study of how even though the Liberty’s pace has come down, that doesn’t mean the team isn’t moving as much — that motion is not contained to north-south anymore, but also happening east-west, which forces opposing defenses to work more.

Cambage struggles defending in space, so the Liberty will try to draw her out as much as they can. Han Xu figures to play a big role in this contest as her height could create some issues for Cambage in the post. It’s rare to have someone tower over Cambage, but Han does and his will be a great test for her. If she succeeds, it’ll give her Sixth Player of the Year campaign even more juice.

From the Vault

It's the Fourth of July, and I know y'all gonna be out here barbecuing, watching fireworks, and having fun. With that in mind, let's play some summer jams and vibe out.

More reading: Swish Appeal, Nets Republic, Just Women’s Sports, Winsidr, Her Hoop Stats and The Next