The Liberty returns to Madison Square Garden on Saturday, May 21, when it hosts the Los Angeles Sparks at 6 p.m. Saturday’s game will include Maddie’s Birthday Celebration presented by Fidelis Care, the official health plan provider of the Liberty. The first 5,000 fans in attendance will receive a free 12-month calendar featuring Liberty players and rescue animals from Best Friends Animal Society, and there will be family friendly activations throughout the night.
The Liberty is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2011 thanks to its 79-71 win over Dallas in its home opener last Sunday night at The Garden. On Saturday, New York will be seeking its first 3-0 start in nearly a decade, since 2007, when the Liberty won its first five games of the season.
Last season, New York swept the season series with Los Angeles for the first time since 2010, and overall the Liberty has won three straight in the series. The Liberty has never beaten the Sparks four times in a row, which is what they will attempt to do when the teams match up on Saturday.
Tina Charles has opened the 2017 season on a tear, posting 24 points and 11 rebounds in each of her first two games, both Liberty victories. In the win over Dallas last Sunday, she notched career double-double No. 111 in her 200th career game played.
Sugar Rodgers has been red hot to start the season, posting a career-high 24 points with a career-best six 3-pointers as the Liberty dispatched the Wings on Sunday. Rodgers, who led the Liberty with 41 3-pointers last season, already has nine triples this year and currently ranks sixth in the WNBA in scoring, averaging 21.5 ppg.
Shavonte Zellous surpassed 2,000-career points with her 8 point performance in New York’s 79-71 victory over Dallas on May 15. Now in her eighth WNBA season, Zellous has a career average of 9.2 ppg. Last season, she averaged 8.4 ppg in Indiana, and her career-best came in 2013, when she was a WNBA All-Star for the Eastern Conference and averaged 14.7 ppg. She had eight points in the 87-76 win at Washington in her Liberty debut.
PLAYER TO WATCH
It’s hard to choose between Tina Charles and Sugar Rodgers, both of whom played at an extremely high level during the first week of the season, but it is Charles that will most likely have to contend with fellow All-Star Candace Parker, so the spotlight will be on her. This will actually be the first time Charles and Parker have faced one another in the WNBA since 2014, as Parker missed both games last year due to resting for the first half of the season.
There was only one head-to-head matchup that year, Charles’ first in New York, with Parker and the Sparks coming into Madison Square Garden to pick up a 68-54 victory. Charles scored 20 points with eight rebounds to lead New York, while Parker finished with 14 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
Although just two games into the season, during preseason play and the start of the regular season, much has been made of the Liberty’s faster pace on the offensive end of the floor, and the numbers back up that sentiment. While some rule changes, such as the shot clock reset to 14 on offensive rebounds, should mean every team has more possessions his season, the Liberty’s shift is more drastic than that. Last year, New York ranked sixth in the league, averaging 77.3 offensive possessions per 40 minutes. So far this season, that number has jumped up to 86.2, good for fourth in the WNBA.
Last season’s Liberty squad was one of the best performing defensive units over the past several years of the league, and with key additions along the front line along with the addition of Shavonte Zellous, there is little reason to think that would be any different in 2016. Through two games, the Liberty ranks second in the WNBA, yielding 73.7 possessions per 40 to opponents, down from 75.8 a year ago. Additionally, teams are shooting just 35.0 percent against New York, first in the league.