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Liberty defends homecourt against Sky

Two things are certain when it comes to the New York Liberty.

First, coach Bill Laimbeer's midseason lineup shuffle helped turn the Liberty's season around and might earn him Coach of the Year honors.

Second, the Liberty's calling card has been their defense, which is playing at a high level and is one of the best, if not the best, in the WNBA right now.

Chicago will get a firsthand look at how well New York is playing when the Sky and Liberty tangle at noon Sunday in Madison Square Garden.

New York has won seven straight, with its last defeat coming on Aug. 4.

The Liberty has opened up a 1 1/2-game lead for the fourth playoff spot over Washington after beating the Mystics on Friday 74-66. The top four teams earn a first-round bye in the postseason.

Chicago is fighting for its playoff life.

After a convincing win over the Connecticut Sun on Friday, the Sky is 1 1/2 games behind Seattle and Dallas for the eighth and final postseason berth. Chicago has little margin for error if it expects to catch either the Storm or the Wings.

A victory on Sunday would put the Liberty within one game of the Eastern Conference-leading Sun with three games left in the regular season.

"We know who we are," Laimbeer said after Friday's victory. "We're a defensive ballclub and we have to go out and prove that every night."

It's no coincidence the Liberty have found stability on offense since Laimbeer tweaked the starting lineup, installing Bria Hartley at the point and bringing Sugar Rodgers off the bench.

The move has allowed Epiphanny Prince to thrive as a scorer. At 11.6 points per game, Prince is one of five New York players to average double figures in scoring. Against Washington, she poured in 20 points, going 6 of 11 from the field and making all six free throws.

"I'm being more aggressive," Prince said after posting her third 20-point game of the season. Not only scoring, but Prince sees her role as a facilitator, "getting everyone else involved when I can."

Heading into Sunday's game, Prince said the Liberty will "continue to build on our defense and on our rebounding."

And while their defense has been terrific, the Sky could provide a stiff challenge. Chicago has won four of its last six games and scored more than 90 points in three of those games. The Sky topped the century mark in another.

Jessica Breland scored 15 points in Friday's win over Connecticut. Stefanie Dolson had one of her best all-around games with 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots and two steals.

The Sky got a huge boost from Adut Bulgak, who scored a career-high 14 points two days after being added to the roster.

"Connecticut plays at a very high tempo, they lead the league in scoring and point production, so we know that matching their pace was important," Sky coach Amber Stocks told the Hartford Courant.

"Likewise, we play fast, that is part of our style, too. Both of us are in the top of the league in field goal attempts per game so, yes, we wanted to play our style and not only would it be a strength of ours, but it might be ... a potential weakness in Connecticut."

The Sky will take that same approach on Sunday with a big difference -- they will be going up against the team that leads the league in field-goal percentage allowed at 40.7 percent.

And it's not even close -- the next best is Minnesota with the Lynx holding opponents to 42.2 percent from the field.

And while the Liberty are holding opponents to 77.2 points per game, the Sky enter Sunday's game averaging 82.2 points per game.

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