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Liberty start two game home series vs. the Sparks

WNBA: JUN 27 Las Vegas Aces at Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Off to a good start. The New York Liberty are fighting for their playoff lives, and will need to string together a bunch of wins together in a hurry against the teams they’re battling for playoff spots. They got the first one out the way in a dominant victory against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center. The Liberty will need some more games like that if they want to go far.

The opponent tonight will be the Los Angeles Sparks. It’s been a chaotic year for interim head coach, Fred Williams, and he’ll need to get his team back on the good foot in a hurry if they want to make it to the postseason. They hosted the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday evening and fell short in their comeback attempt.

Where to follow the game

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No Betnijah Laney.

Lexie Brown is questionable with an ankle injury. Kristi Toliver is out with a calf issue.

The game

Los Angeles won the first meeting.

Last time, the player to watch was Liz Cambage. Cambage was one of the prize free agent acquisitions of the past WNBA offseason and she was expected to help bring the Sparks back to glory. Cambage never lived up to those expectations and on July 26, she and the team parted ways. There’s plenty of heat to send Cambage’s way for how she handled things in Los Angeles, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported on the split, and this part was concerning

The Sparks practice at Jump Beyond Sports complex the majority of the season, and it’s been described as the worst practice facility in the league, sources say. Fisher and staff picked this location prior to the season to the dismay of most of the players, sources say.

“An AAU team wouldn’t want to play there,” one player said.

That’s pretty damning of the Sparks organization and now that the Cambage experiment has blown up in their faces, they have to reevaluate everything they’ve done and figure out what they can do to treat their players in a better fashion. As I read that, I thought of what Liberty CEO, Keia Clarke, told me about the importance of having a high quality, high caliber building to call home.

Without Cambage, the Liberty figure to have a better chance of succeeding in the paint. In the first meeting, LA outscored NY 42-22 in the paint. LA also won the rebound battle by nine in the first game as well. For New York, their success depends on matching the opponent’s physicality and setting the tempo in transition.

The matchup between Nneka Ogwumike and Natasha Howard will be essential tonight. Nneka has been excellent all year and has more responsibility on her plate. She cut the Liberty up to the tune of 23 points, six rebounds, and two steals the first time she saw New York. She got some easy baskets in transition due to live ball Liberty turnovers, and New York will need to ensure they keep the Sparks in the halfcourt. Howard still has the turnover woes, but she’s doing everything else the Liberty needs from her.

Sabrina Ionescu will look to follow up on her record setting Sunday. Sab set a team record with 16 assists and was two away from tying Courtney Vandersloot for the all time league record. Ionescu did a wonderful job of taking what the defense gave her and not forcing the action. Her shot wasn’t there, but it will be soon enough. As long as she takes her time, trusts the plays she makes for others, and stays assertive, she’ll be able to rack up the assists and easy points.

One big difference for the Liberty tonight as compared to the first time they played the Sparks was they’ll have Sami Whitcomb and Rebecca Allen available. Whitcomb got that day off as she was nursing a minor ankle injury, while Allen only played briefly due to suffering another concussion. Their presence gives the Liberty more three point shooting and with Allen specifically, someone who can slash to the basket and use her size to disrupt the opponent and help on the boards.

There will also be something new for fans tonight, a new court layout...

Player to watch: Chennedy Carter

It’s the strangest thing. It feels like the Sparks and Carter play at two totally different speeds. LA often looks like it’s playing super slow, while Carter always looks like the turbo button is on.

After a slow start and a nagging knee injury, Carter has started to find her groove coming off of the Los Angeles bench. She’s shooting 48 percent from the field this year, but hasn’t had much success with her jumpers this year. She’s most effective getting to the basket, and the Liberty will need to ensure that they are keeping her in front of them as much as possible. With Toliver out, more will be expected of Carter over this two game set and in the other games going forward.

Crystal Dangerfield was masterful on Sunday afternoon. She had her best game as a member of the Liberty as she scored 17 points, handed out five assists, and hounded Skylar Diggins-Smith into a tough shooting night. Dangerfield’s ability to run the offense and take some responsibility off of Ionescu’s shoulders is critical for the Liberty. Any scoring she gives you is extra credit, so as long as her defense is rock solid, the team will be great.

From the Vault

We’ll spend some more time with Mr. Bill Russell

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