Liberty return from lengthy trek to face Fever at MSG (Aug 7, 2017)

What a long, strange trip it has been for the New York Liberty this season. And finally, the longest part is over with a five-game road trip in the rear-view mirror.

The Liberty last played in front of the home crowd on July 19 with an uplifting win against Connecticut, the top team in the Eastern Conference.

Nearly 6,000 miles and 20 days later, the bright lights of Madison Square Garden should be a welcome sight for the Liberty.

The sight of their next opponent, the Indiana Fever? Maybe not so much.

With eight games left on the regular-season schedule, the Fever are only 1 1/2 games out of the playoff picture despite having a 9-17 record. And they come to New York for Tuesday night’s game with confidence and swagger after a stunning 84-82 road win over the league’s best team, the Minnesota Lynx.

Forward Candice Dupree scored 31 points and pulled down nine rebounds as the Fever snapped a five-game losing streak.

“I was proud of the way we held our composure,” Dupree told the team’s website. “We actually played defense for an entire 40 minutes, regardless of what was going on the offensive end.”

Balance was the key on offense for Indiana. The Fever backcourt of Briann January and Erica Wheeler compiled 14 points and six assists and nine points and seven assists, respectively.

Tiffany Mitchell added eight points and eight boards, as well.

The win was Indiana’s first against the Lynx in more than six years. The last time Indiana beat Minnesota had been on June 26, 2011.

“I told them in the huddle after the game that we have to take this momentum and bring it to New York,” Dupree added. “Don’t let this win be in vain. We have to go out and compete every night.”

Tuesday’s contest is the second of three between the Fever and Liberty. New York edged Indiana 85-84 on July 28 — one of the highlights on the road trip. Charles scored 25 and Bria Hartley added 17. In fact, Hartley has picked up the load in recent games where Charles has struggled a bit.

The Liberty (12-12) stumbled to a 2-3 record on their road trip, yet coach Bill Laimbeer sees positive signs, especially after losing 87-74 to the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday.

“I think it’s a credit to the team. We showed good resilience in the first half,” Laimbeer said. “This has been a long, long stretch for the last six weeks for us, two long road trips, and we got a little tired. But we regrouped and then the third quarter we just turned the ball over and gave them the lead.”

The game was tied at 44 at halftime but the Sparks outscored the Liberty 25-11 in the third and sailed to the victory.

The play of Hartley has been a bright spot and is one of the main reasons Laimbeer believes his club will be in the thick of the postseason.

Hartley has pushed the pace on offense and has averaged 18.5 points the past two games.

With an eye on the final 10 regular-season games, Hartley knows what she and her teammates need to do.

“We gotta stay together; everyone has to do their part,” she told reporters. “The road trip is behind us. There’s nothing we can do to change it. Learn from it. Move on. And take one game at a time.”