MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. – JULY 14, 2016 – The New York Liberty will face the defending champion Minnesota Lynx in potentially one of the most pivotal regular season matchups remaining on the WNBA schedule on Friday night at the Target Center at 8 p.m. (ET).
The two teams have split their two meetings so far this year, so up for grabs, in addition to a big win, is a potential head-to-head tiebreaker should the Liberty and Lynx finish tied in the WNBA standings. While there are still many games, and months, to go before the playoffs tipoff this fall, finishing second overall means a bye into the best-of-five semifinals and home court, avoiding a potential one-game shootout in the second round.
Minnesota won the first game at New York back on May 31, with Maya Moore scoring 25 points to lead the Lynx to the 79-69 victory. A month later, Sugar Rodgers and the Liberty erased a 15-point 4th quarter deficit to grab a 95-92 win in overtime. MVP candidate Tina Charles missed that game, and Rodgers scored a career-high 30 points with seven 3-pointers.
• Tina Charles scored 18 points with nine rebounds in just 25 minutes of action as the Liberty eased past the Atlanta Dream with a balanced effort, 86-62, on Wednesday afternoon for its fourth-consecutive victory. The Liberty saw 47 of those points come from the second unit and four players finished in double figures as New York opened up a 4.5 game lead over the Dream for third place in the league’s overall standings.
• Friday night’s game against the Lynx is the final regular season meeting between New York and Minnesota, with the winner staking claim to a potential tiebreaker should the two finish tied in the league standings. So far this season, each won in the other team’s building. Most recently, New York erased a 15-point 4th quarter deficit to win 95-92 in OT, without MVP candidate Tina Charles. Sugar Rodgers scored a career-high 30 points in the win, nailing seven 3-pointers.
• The Liberty’s #BenchMob has been important to the team’s success all season long, and in the win over Atlanta, the New York second unit combined for 47 points, led by 11 apiece for Rebecca Allen and Shavonte Zellous. New York is 3rd in the WNBA, averaging 28.7 bench points per game.
• At 16-6, the Liberty has matched the best record through 22 games in franchise history (2001, 2015).
PLAYER TO WATCH
Tina Charles missed the last game against the Lynx after undergoing a reduction procedure on her broken nose, so what will her presence mean for New York on Friday. In the first game of the season at Madison Square Garden, Charles posted a double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds, but that loss came at the end of a three-game losing streak for New York, and the Liberty has not lost back-to-back games since.
Thanks to a pair of convincing wins in the past week, Charles has logged fewer than 25 minutes in each of the last two New York wins, and the Lynx last played on Tuesday afternoon, so both teams should be fully rested.
The Liberty defense completely stifled the Atlanta Dream in an 86-62 win at Madison Square Garden on July 13, as New York limited Atlanta to just .299 from the field, a season-low for Liberty opponents this season. New York dominated the glass, holding a +18 advantage on the boards, tied for the best of the year, and as a result grabbed a season-high 21 offensive rebounds and outscored the Dream 27-9 in second chance opportunities, with that +18 margin also tying a season-best.
Over the past several games, head coach Bill Laimbeer has been playing the Liberty’s second unit together for extended periods of time and the bench has made significant contributions all season, and particularly over the past two games. New York ranks fourth overall, averaging 28.7 bench points per game, part of a cluster of five teams (Connecticut, Washington, Chicago, Indiana) that see between 28.8 and 30.2 ppg come from its reserves. Over the past two games, the Liberty has seen 38 and 47 points come from the bench.