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WNBA: Trying to sustain strong start, Liberty host Aces

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The New York Liberty, who have flipped the script from a depressing 2020 to become one of the most surprising and interesting teams in the WNBA this season, try to sustain their outstanding start to the season Thursday when they host the Las Vegas Aces in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Despite their overtime loss to the Atlanta Dream over the weekend, the Liberty (5-2) already have won more than twice as many games as they did all of last season’s disastrous 2-20 campaign, yet the loss of Natasha Howard for four to six weeks with a knee injury could circumvent their 2021 resurgence.

The Aces (5-3), meantime, have won three of five and rate among the favorites to return to the WNBA finals.

New York coach Walt Hopkins was named the league’s coach of the month Wednesday following the team’s hot start, and now with the injury to Howard (14.5 points a game), he and the Liberty will be tested as they try to build momentum before hitting the road for a five-game trip.

To keep winning, they’ll need to continue to get all-star performances from Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney. Ionescu, the first player picked in last year’s WBNA draft, averages 16.1 points 7.1 assists, and 6.6 rebounds.

Laney is scoring 22.3 points a game, third-most in the league, and is the second Liberty player to score 20 or more points in the first seven games of a season.

A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage lead the Aces, scoring 17.6 and 14.8 points, respectively, per game. Cambage put up 28 points and seven rebounds Tuesday against the Connecticut Sun in a 74-67 loss as Las Vegas opened a three-game East Coast trip.

“We’re a team of superstars. We’re a team where any person can go off on any given night,” Cambage told the Las Vegas Sun. “Anyone can get hot on our team.”

Much of the Aces’ success this season will hinge on Wilson and Cambage’s chemistry. As two physically imposing players who thrive in the paint, they occupy similar roles. The Aces are second in the league in defensive rebounds and blocks.

For New York, While Ionescu has been solid and Laney spectacular as of late, New York’s 2021 first-round draft pick, Michaela Onyenwere, is coming off the best performance of her young career. She recorded 29 points, five rebounds, and two assists Saturday night in the loss to Atlanta, and was named the league’s Rookie of the Month for May.

–Field Level Media

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