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Previews: Liberty and Sparks face off in tussle with playoff implications

The New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks face off while they are separated by one game in the standings. The Seattle Storm were victorious in their last outing and will face the Washington Mystics, who remain in the playoff race despite have dropped their last three games.

Seattle Storm v New York Liberty
Betnjiah Laney will need to have a big game to earn the Liberty a win.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The New York Liberty (11-13), who are on their third game of a five game home stand, take on the Los Angeles Sparks (9-13), who have won their last three games, on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. The Seattle Storm (17-7) are 1-2 so far during their five game road trip and will take on the Washington Mystics (8-13) at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN.

The New York Liberty were thrashed by the Storm in their last game, 99-83. The Liberty sit seventh in the standings, just one game ahead of the Dallas Wings and the Sparks. One important thing to note is that the Liberty and the Sparks will be playing without fans due to Hurricane Henri.

Betnijah Laney will look to get back on track after scoring just nine points against the Storm. It was just the third game this year in which Laney failed to reach double figures. In all of those games, the Liberty failed to win. Sami Whitcomb had her third game of 25 points or more in the loss; it was the Liberty’s first loss in such games. Whitcomb was 5-of-9 from distance in the contest and her long range shooting will be critical against the Sparks.

Natasha Howard played in just her fifth game for the Liberty after missing the majority of the season due to an MCL injury. She recorded her first double-double as a member of the team (11 points, 13 rebounds), but was 4-of-19 from the field. If Howard can be more efficient around the basket, she and Laney could pose quite a threat in the paint.

The Sparks won their last game 66-64 over the Atlanta Dream after Nneka Ogwumike hit a game-winning shot from close range. Ogwumike leads the Sparks in scoring this season with 15.5 points per game and is followed by Erica Wheeler and Amanda Zahui B. who are averaging 13.7 and 11.5 points, respectively.

The Sparks rely on their defense to get stops as their offense ranks last in scoring with just 73.5 points per game. The Liberty won the last meeting between the teams on the strength of 10-of-31 shooting from 3-point land. New York will look to use its long range shooting to power it to another win.

Mystics look to turn it around

The Mystics return home on a three-game losing streak and will welcome the Storm. They have been without Elena Delle Donne due to a back surgery recovery. Delle Donne is listed as probable. How effective she will be this season remains to be seen.

The Storm are trying to remain in the race for the top seed after getting off to a slow start following the Olympic break. Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird missed the first two games to allow them to rest after their gold medal run. Their return coincided with the Storm’s win against the Liberty in the team’s last game.

Washington’s Tina Charles is the league’s leading scorer with 25.7 points per game. Her 34-point performance in the Mystics’ last game against the Storm was instrumental an 87-83 victory.

The Mystics feature one of the worst defenses in the league, yet maintain playoff hopes due to their nine made threes per game. They rely on sheer volume as they shoot just 32.5 percent from beyond the arc.

The Storm are a bona fide title contender as they are featured in the top half offensively and defensively. Jewell Loyd is averaging 30 points since the Olympic restart while Breanna Stewart is third in the league in scoring on the year with 20.5 points.

Game information

New York Liberty (11-13) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (9-13)

When: Sunday, Aug. 21 at 2 p.m. ET

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

How to watch: ESPN3, YES App, Spectrum Sportsnet, SN1

Key to the matchup: The Liberty are a 3-point shooting team and shoot over 40 percent in their victories. The Sparks are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, which could allow for the Liberty to create extra scoring opportunities.

Liberty injury report: Jazmine Jones (out; foot), Jocelyn Willoughby (out for season; Achilles)

Sparks injury report: Chiney Ogumike (probable; knee), Jasmine Walker (out for season; knee), Maria Vadeeva (out for season; personal)

Seattle Storm (16-7) vs. Washington Mystics (8-13)

When: Friday, Aug. 21 at 3 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington, D.C.

How to watch: ESPN, NBA TV Canada

Key to the matchup: Jewell Loyd is putting up big numbers and Breanna Stewart is as good as ever, which makes the Storm a tough team to beat. The return of Delle Donne may not make an impact right away but could help the Mystics make a playoff push.

Storm injury report: Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (out for season; personal)

Mystics injury report: Elena Delle Donne (probable; back), Shavonte Zellous (probable; ankle)