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Preview: Playoff-hopeful Liberty take on No. 1 seed Sun

The New York Liberty need a win to control their own destiny in their race against the Washington Mystics and face a tall task: a road game against the league-leading Connecticut Sun.

Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty
The Liberty will need a big game from Betnijah Laney (with ball).
Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

The New York Liberty (11-19) are on the road to face the Connecticut Sun (24-6) Wednesday. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. ET and be broadcast nationally on CBS Sports Network.

The Liberty are one game behind the Washington Mystics (12-18) for the WNBA’s eighth and final playoff seed with just two games to play. They’ll play the Mystics in their final game of the season, but in order for that game to be a playoff-clinching opportunity, they first have to beat the Sun on the road.

That’s much easier said than done, particularly for the Liberty, who have lost seven-consecutive games. Connecticut, of course, has already clinched the WNBA’s top playoff seed — earning homecourt advantage throughout the postseason — and has been a tough matchup for New York thus far in the 2021 regular season. On June 5, the Sun got 31 points and 13 rebounds from MVP candidate Jonquel Jones and defeated the Liberty by 21; they held New York to just 26 second-half points en route to another blowout win a month later.

New York Liberty v Connecticut Sun
WNBA rebounding leader Jonquel Jones (with ball) has been a matchup nightmare for the Liberty this season.
Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

Simply put, the Sun’s winning formula of defense and rebounding is one the Liberty have difficulty matching up with. New York was decisively outrebounded in both losses to Connecticut and could not establish the pace of the game in its favor. Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu struggled at the point of attack against the defense of Jasmine Thomas, while the team’s leading scorer Betnijah Laney shot a combined 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) in the two games.

Adding another wrinkle to the equation, Sun forward Alyssa Thomas may be back in action. Thomas, who has not played in 2021 after rupturing her Achilles tendon, is considered probable for Friday, with Sun head coach Curt Miller “optimistic” that she’ll see some playing time.

There’s also the possibility, of course, that the Sun rest some of their top players with their playoff position already sewn up. Regardless, the Liberty will need to be in top form if they’re going to pull off the upset.

Game information

New York Liberty (11-19) vs. Connecticut Sun (24-6)

When: Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT

How to watch: CBS Sports Network, NESN+

Liberty injury report: Reshanda Gray (doubtful; non-COVID illness), Jocelyn Willoughby (out for season; left Achilles)

Sun injury report: Alyssa Thomas (probable; Achilles)

Keys to the matchup: The Sun play with a physicality that’s difficult to match, particularly for a Liberty team that tends to run undersized in the frontcourt. Keeping J. Jones off the glass should be top priority for New York; if the Liberty can at least keep things respectable in the rebounding department, they can push the pace and get open 3-point looks in transition. New York’s guards must also handle Connecticut’s ball pressure much better than they have in previous games; if Ionescu continues to be a non-factor and Laney struggles shooting the ball once again, it’s hard to envision a Liberty victory.