The Connecticut Sun have an opportunity to further cloud an already unclear playoff picture in the Eastern Conference when the surging New York Liberty visit Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday night.
Though five teams are within 3 1/2 games of first place, the Liberty (15-6) have started to separate from the pack by winning eight of nine. New York increased its lead to 2 1/2 games with Tuesday’s 84-63 rout of Chicago, its third straight triumph of at least 14 points.
The Sky’s loss combined with Indiana’s victory over Washington created a virtual three-way tie for second, with the Sun (12-10) lurking one game back after winning three of four.
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Connecticut will face four straight teams with sub-.500 records following Friday’s showdown with a Liberty team that scored at will against a Chicago squad hampered by Elena Delle Donne’s absence due to an ankle injury.
New York shot 50.8 percent and received another huge effort from Epiphanny Prince, who scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting against her former team. Prince, traded by the Sky to the Liberty for Cappie Pondexter in February, had a season-high 30 in a 77-63 decision over Chicago on Aug. 7.
The Liberty have been anchored by strong defense during this turnaround season. New York is yielding a WNBA-best 70.3 points per game and also leads the league in field-goal percentage defense (37.8) and rebound margin (plus-6.5).
"Those (categories) are two hallmarks of any great defensive team, which we quite frankly are right now," coach Bill Laimbeer told the WNBA’s official website.
The Sun displayed some defensive skills of their own last time out, limiting Tulsa to 28.1 percent shooting in the second half to rally for an 80-74 victory Wednesday for their fourth straight home win.
"I thought we were scrappier and more intense defensively," coach Anne Donovan said of the final two quarters. "I am not saying we did not play hard in the first half but we did get after it more in the second half. You saw a different level of intensity and accountability in the second half."
Alex Bentley chipped in 25 points after managing two in a loss at Washington three days earlier. The inconsistent guard had 31 in an 86-72 win over the Mystics on Aug. 7.
Bentley scored 15 points but shot 6 of 19 in a 64-57 loss to the Liberty on July 16 at Madison Square Garden. Former Sun standout Tina Charles had 22 points and 12 rebounds in New York’s third straight win in the series.
The Sun will retire the No. 23 jersey of recently retired guard Katie Douglas prior to the game. The five-time All-Star spent eight of her 14 WNBA seasons with the franchise and is the club’s all-time leader in 3-pointers.