New York Liberty off to fast start, win 5 of first 6 games

Sports

New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, left, tries to get past Chicago Sky guard Stephanie Watts, right, during a WNBA basketball game Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Eileen T. Meslar)

The WNBA season isn’t even two weeks old and the New York Liberty have already doubled their win total from last year and are off to their best start since 2007.

New York has won five of its first six games, including a back-to-back on Sunday and Monday. The Liberty won only two games all last season.

“I didn’t know we’d be 5-1. I didn’t know what we’d be,” Liberty coach Walt Hopkins said. “I wanted us to play hard and execute. The 5-1 was a by-product of this group and their buy-in to everything we’ve been asking of them.”

The Liberty have been led by Sabrina Ionescu, who earned Eastern Conference player of the week honors. She had the 10th triple-double in league history last week and has been a huge reason the team is playing well.

“We wanted to start the season how we knew that we could,” Ionescu said. “It’s awesome to see that it’s showing and not taking a long time to build this.”

Even after such a poor season last year, the Liberty were still able to attract free agents like Betnijah Laney and trade for Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb, who brought championship experience with them from Seattle.

“I don’t believe that the win column really depicted what this team was capable of last year, especially with Sabrina going down in the first 3 games,” said Laney, who has scored at least 20 points in all six games. “I liked the fight I saw in New York last year and thought it was home.”

New York sits a half-game behind Connecticut in the standings. The Sun, who are unbeaten, moved into first in the AP power poll this week.

POWER POLL

This week’s WNBA poll:

1. Connecticut (5-0): Jonquel Jones has looked impressive this season after opting out last year because of the coronavirus. Jones is sixth in the league hitting 55.4% of her field goal attempts and second in rebounds at 10.8 per game.

2. Seattle (3-1): A huge comeback win over Minnesota and an overtime victory over Dallas on the road show the defending champions are still one of the top teams in the league. Breanna Stewart became the fastest player ever to reach 2,500 points and 1,000 rebounds, achieving that milestone in the win over the Wings.

3. Las Vegas (2-2): Bill Laimbeer said his team is a work in progress and after splitting its first four games the Aces are proving their coach right.

4. New York (5-1): The Liberty rebounded from their first loss of the season to Washington with consecutive wins over Chicago and Dallas on back-to-back days.

5. Chicago (2-1): Ruthy Hebard has really taken a huge step up in her second year. She’s had a double-double in her last two games.

6. Phoenix (2-2): It’s hard to imagine that a team with Brittney Griner and Brianna Turner is struggling on the boards, but the Mercury were outrebounded by 24 in a loss to the Sun.

7. Dallas (1-2): The Wings have gotten stellar play from Marina Mabrey but are short-handed with Allisha Gray and Satou Sabally overseas right now.

8. Washington (1-3): The Mystics followed up their first win of the season — an impressive victory over the Liberty with a loss at Indiana. Tina Charles has done her part averaging over 25 points a game. She’s gotten little help consistently.

9. Minnesota (0-3): The Lynx are off to their worst start since 2007 when the team dropped its first seven games. The good news is that Napheesa Collier will be back in the lineup when they visit Seattle.

10. Atlanta (1-2): The Dream are still trying to figure out rotations on offense with so many talented guards. Chennedy Carter, Courtney Williams and Tiffany Hayes are starting to build chemistry on the court.

11. Los Angeles (0-2): Defense has been a major problem for the Sparks in the first two games as they are giving up an average of 95.5 points.

12. Indiana (1-4): The Fever earned their first victory of the season with a win over Washington on Sunday and Jessica Breland was a big reason why. She’s averaged 16 points and 13 rebounds in the team’s last two games.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK:

Sabrina Ionescu of the New York Liberty had a stellar week, helping the team to wins in three of its four games. She averaged 17.5 points, 8 assists and 7.5 rebounds. Other players to receive votes included Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones and Seattle’s Breanna Stewart.

APOLOGY, FINE, SUSPENSION

Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller was fined $10,000 and suspended a game by the WNBA for making a disparaging remark to a referee Sunday about the weight of Las Vegas Aces post player Liz Cambage.

In a social media post following the Aces’ 72-65 loss to the Sun on Sunday, Cambage said Miller showed a lack of respect. The coach, while arguing whether a call should have gone the Sun’s way, told the official she weighed 300 pounds.

Miller issued a statement Monday apologizing to Cambage and the Aces and later re-iterated his apology in the team’s media availability.

“As a leader, words matter. It was inappropriate,” he said. “In a league where we empower women, and I’ve spent 31 years empowering women, (those words were) just not acceptable.”

GAME OF THE WEEK:

Sparks at Sky, Friday and Sunday. Candace Parker potentially could face her former team for the first time if her ankle injury has healed. Parker spent the first 13 years of her career in Los Angeles before signing with Chicago in the offseason.

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