New York coach Bill Laimbeer wants his first-place Liberty to close out the first half of the regular season like they're in the playoffs, beginning with Wednesday's 11:30 a.m. ET tipoff against the struggling Washington Mystics at Verizon Center.
“We take every game like a playoff game,” Laimbeer told the Liberty's website. “We scrape out as many wins as possible. We don't blow teams out. We just try to win any way we can, and these games will be no exception.”
With two games left before the monthlong Olympic break, the Liberty (17-7) sit atop the Eastern Conference standings, 4.5 games ahead of the second-place Atlanta Dream. New York is third in the overall league standings, behind the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx. The top eight teams, regardless of conference, qualify for the postseason.
The Mystics (9-13) have lost five straight games and are desperate to turn things around ahead of the break. They are coming off an 80-51 blowout loss at Seattle on Friday and have lost three consecutive meetings with the Liberty, including an 87-76 defeat at home in the first game of the season.
New York star Tina Charles scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the season-opening win over the Mystics. Charles now has 13 double-doubles on the season and has emerged as a leading MVP candidate.
Washington did not have sparkplug guard Ivory Latta in the loss to New York, but she'll play Wednesday against the Liberty. Charles says Latta is a difference-maker for the Mystics.
“The first go around they didn't have Ivory Latta,” Charles said. “So I know she poses a threat and holds their unit together.”
This is the first of back-to-back games for the Liberty before the Olympic break. New York returns to Madison Square Garden on Thursday to host the Indiana Fever.
“We've been pushing and grinding for a long time right now, and the end's in sight,” Laimbeer said. “Back-to-back games unfortunately, but games that we can win, but also playing teams desperate for playoff position.”
The Mystics close out the first half of the season at home against the Sparks, who own the best record in the WNBA.