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Liberty Hope For Anniversary Celebration

June 21, 1997. Fifteen years ago, the New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks tipped off and played in the first-ever WNBA game. Fast forward to today, and the same two teams hook up tonight at the Staples Center to renew their rivalry.

Happy Anniversary?

By all means, this is a monumental occasion. The WNBA has made enormous strides with regard to the popularity and talent of the league and its players. But how happy are the Liberty in their 15th season?

After opening the season with two wins, New York is down having lost three straight games, including double-digit setbacks to Atlanta and Chicago. In question as a result of those losses is defense.

Under first-year coach John Whisenant, a known defensive guru, the Libs are surrendering the fourth-most points per game (83.6) and the second highest opponents’ shooting percentage (47.5 percent). Effective during the team’s two wins, Whisenant’s white line defense hasn’t done the job of late.

Designed to keep interior scorers and lane drivers at bay, the white line defense forces the opposition to beat it with jump shots. And that’s exactly what’s been happening to the Liberty.

In their loss to Chicago, the Liberty gave up 49 points to the Sky’s frontcourt starters. During their loss to Atlanta, the Dream’s bigs dropped 40 while Angel McCoughtry’s mid-range J was on target.

It’s something for New York’s coaching staff to consider as the team continues its current road trip. Tonight, the Liberty defense will be matched up against a tough Sparks team, which boasts the remarkable Candace Parker-Tina Thompson duo in the paint. As a unit, the Sparks are one of the most lethal 3-point shooting teams – five players are shooting 43 percent or better from beyond the arc.

While the Liberty defense attempts to right the ship, the offense is also hoping to make improvements. Scoring, particularly late in the game, has proven to be difficult. The Libs have been outscored by their opponents in the second half of games by a 209-164 margin (106-81 in the fourth quarter).

You can chalk up some of the scoring deficit to free throws. New York’s opponents have attempted 48 more free throws than Liberty players for a total of 36 points. And what’s the scoring differential this season? New York is a minus-32.

When you add up the deficiencies, the Libs are exactly where they should be – around .500 – based on their season performances. We all know, however, that a team as talented as New York should own more than just two wins at this point.

Let’s hope they right the ship starting tonight in L.A. It would be a great anniversary present. And in case you’re wondering, tonight’s game will be televised on national television. ESPN2 will broadcast the game beginning at 10 p.m.

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