Flashback to the beginning of the season. The New York Liberty looked good, but there were definitely concerns on a few fronts: the form of Jonquel Jones, team chemistry and how the team would fare against the Las Vegas Aces.
Now, as we have less than a handful of games left before the regular season ends, most of those worries have disappeared. The Liberty have put themselves in an optimal position. They sit second in the overall WNBA standings, have only lost three games since the month of June, tied their season series with the Aces at 2-2 and won the Commissioner’s Cup. They likely will go into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed, unless the Aces somehow lose the majority of their final four games. If the season ended today, New York would play Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs, but the fifth through eighth seeds are tight between the Washington Mystics, Atlanta Dream, Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks, with the Chicago Sky lurking in ninth. The Liberty could face any of these teams.
What’s going right
Things are looking good for the Liberty, and you can’t help but think you can trust them to win a five-game series against any other contenders. Their season record sits at 28-7, and they have won 10 of their last 11 games. Any chemistry woes from early in the season seem to be gone.
Breanna Stewart is still top of mind in the race for MVP with, you guessed it, A’ja Wilson. The two’s season stats are so close it’s hard to predict what voters will decide on their ballots—and no, I don’t have a vote, unfortunately.
Sabrina Ionescu has broken the WNBA’s single-season record for 3-pointers made, continuing to be a dagger from distance. Courtney Vandersloot was essential in their win on Monday against the Aces. Jonquel Jones’ rebounding also was another key factor in New York blowing out Las Vegas for the second time this season.
What’s next for the Liberty
The team has five regular season games left, beginning Friday, Sep. 1 against the Connecticut Sun before finishing with the Sky, Dallas Wings, Sparks and Mystics.
Connecticut currently sits 4.5 games behind New York in the standings, so it doesn’t look like they will challenge them for the No. 2 seed. Even so, New York already has won the season series against the Sun at 3-0, meaning the Liberty would win a tiebreak.
The Sky are one team that has a win over the Liberty this season, and the season series sits at 2-1. With the Sky being a potential first-round opponent for the Liberty, winning their upcoming game would be a good sign heading into the playoffs. The Sky have been HOT as of late as they fight for a playoff spot.
Because Dallas currently sits comfortably in the fourth seed, New York may not see them until later in the playoffs, if at all. As the teams fifth through eighth in the standings are healthy and thriving, a first round match up with any of them should be concerning for the topsy-turvy Wings. Still, they are another team that has secured a win against the Liberty this season, with the season series is at 1-1.
The Los Angeles Sparks have been on a tear lately, despite having a long injury list for most of the season. They recently went on a six-game winning streak, with many fans suggesting that the birth of Katie Lou Samuelson’s baby girl brought the team some luck. LA didn’t lose a game for almost two weeks following little Aliya’s birth. But all good things come to an end, and the Sparks lost against the Sun on Aug. 27. They currently sit in that coveted eighth spot, fighting to hold off the Sky and make the playoffs. This means it will be all hands on deck when they meet New York next week. The Liberty have won both contests against the Sparks so far this year.
Then there is the Mystics, who have emerged as the consensus “dark horse” ahead of the playoffs. After suffering injuries for most of the season, the Mystics recently have seen the return of their core, and it’s showing. Washington has won their last two games, and they’ll be tough for the top-seeded team that meets them in round one. The Liberty’s season will end with the Mystics, just as it started. Hopefully, this game will result in a win for the Liberty, who went on to win the following two matches against Washington after losing the season opener.
Super team talk
The super team discourse continues as the Liberty and Aces have battled it out all season. They’ve each won two of their four overall meetings in the regular season. We also got a BONUS game between these two when they played in the Commissioner’s Cup Championship, with New York winning.
At All-Star weekend, the Aces won the skills challenge, while Sabrina Ionescu won the 3-point contest. Stewart and Wilson are virtual equals in stats and MVP contention. Every time Stewie smashed a record this season, it seemed like A’ja smashed another the following week. It’s truly been a special season of basketball to watch.
It’s hard to predict what will happen for these teams in the postseason. Some teams are getting healthy, others are getting tired and others are peaking. It seems the Liberty have put them selves in proper position going into what will probably be their best shot at the WNBA championship in decades. Yet, anything could happen.
As we approach the end of the most successful season in franchise history, one thing is for sure—it’s been INCREDIBLE to watch this team. The playoffs are sure to be one heck of a show!