Liberty battle with Lynx, fall short yet again
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MINNEAPOLIS– The New York Liberty looked to stop a three-game losing streak as they faced the Minnesota Lynx in Minneapolis Tuesday night. It didn’t happen.
“We dug ourselves a pretty big hole,” head coach Katie Smith told High Post Hoops before tip-off. “I hope they play loose, I hope they play hard, and if we do that, we can give anybody a run for their money.”
New York fought through seven lead changes and five ties but fell short of a win once again. With the 85-82 to Minnesota, the Liberty fell to a 7-18 and get closer to missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
99 Problems, but Tina ain’t one
While a lot of things are inconsistent for the New York Liberty this season, Tina Charles is not one of those things. The Lynx held the six-time All-Star to 12 points in a June 16 loss to Minnesota. In 10 minutes played, Charles posted 15 points by the close of the first quarter. She finished the night with 32 points and 15 of New York’s 40 rebounds.
Charles has been a premier player on a stagnant New York team. The Liberty earned a bye to the second round of the single-game elimination stage of the newly formatted WNBA Playoffs the past two seasons. Each time, New York has been eliminated by a lower seed.
“Regardless of what the outcome is at the end of the season, I still have to represent myself and who Tina Charles is,” the Queens native told the media Tuesday night. “I still have to make sure I’m a threat and just show everyone in the WNBA … that I’m still playing hard. It doesn’t matter how the season is going. I still have to play hard and play my game.”
It’s come to a point that New York Liberty basketball is beyond synonymous with Tina Charles, it essentially is Tina Charles. While this has cruised the future Hall of Famer though the history books, Charles is no closer to a WNBA title.
No trades, no problem?
The Liberty is not a team stacked with Olympic medalists (although, they do have Olympians in Charles and Canadian rookie Kia Nurse). However, one has to wonder why the team isn’t clicking. The average WNBA experience of the 2018 New York Liberty is 5.25 seasons. As a comparison, the Lynx, often noted as one of the more seasoned teams in the league, has a team average of 7.16 years of WNBA experience.
Nurse is the lone rookie on the roster. However, the Liberty does lack WNBA playoff experience. Marissa Coleman and Shavonte Zellous are the only players on the Liberty roster who have reached the WNBA Finals in their career. Zellous is the lone Liberty player with a title (Indiana, 2012).
So, can the Liberty win now and in the future with this lineup? “Not sure,” responded Smith courtside before Tuesday’s game. Right now, the team needs another scoring option. Its nothing Smith and the players don’t know. Yet, somehow nothing is clicking for New York. For a time, rookie Kia Nurse joined Charles in double figures. Now, she is third in points per game at 8.6.
Shavonte Zellous has proven an able scorer, but not with enough dominance to drop 20+ points on a consistent basis. New York has a fair share of players with the ability to score from the perimeter but lacks the offensive patience to move the ball (and the defense) to get good looks from deep.
Yet with all that said, the Liberty have not made any trades since sending Carolyn Swords to Seattle for picks and brought Bria Hartley and Kia Vaughn to New York in January 2017. The Liberty lineup seems stagnant and either lacks the personnel or the leadership to get over the hump. “Whatever happens at the end of the year, we all get the chance to be re-evaluated and figure out how to get better,” said Smith.
Running out of time?
However, evaluation at the end of the year will be too late for this Liberty team, and perhaps for Smith herself. The Liberty has posted seven losing seasons in 21 years. The 2018 team is on track to post the worst record in franchise history. In 2007, New York went 16-18 (.382) and finished in 7th place out of 13 teams. Currently, the Liberty has a .280 winning percentage and sit in 11th place out of 12 WNBA teams.
The business can be unkind to new coaches that struggle out the gate. New York Liberty legend Vickie Johnson learned that the hard way when she went 8-26 as a first-time coach with San Antonio last season. When the team relocated to Las Vegas, both she and first-time general manager Ruth Riley were out and former Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer was in. Jenny Bouchek got the boot in the middle of the 2016 season as Seattle posted a sub-.500 record through the All-Star break.
The Liberty have nine games remaining this season. Seven of those nine games are against opponents currently in playoff position. New York will also face-off against the Las Vegas Aces who are currently 1.5 games back of a playoff spot. Wins will be tough down the line, making close games like Tuesday night even more difficult to swallow.