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Liberty hosts Stars, seeks ninth straight victory

It's Fan Appreciation Day at Madison Square Garden on Friday and New York has taken its fans on quite a ride this season.

And the Liberty train is chugging along with plenty of steam as the regular season ends and postseason nears.

On Friday, the Liberty (20-12) put an eight-game winning streak on the line against the San Antonio Stars. More important, the Liberty have secured either the No. 3 or 4 seed in the playoffs.

The Liberty have had plenty of time to rest, defeating the Chicago Sky 92-62 on Sunday in their last game and clinching a first-round bye in the postseason.

"That's really important," New York's Tina Charles told Newsday. "The way we're playing, I wish we had more games (only two remain). Maybe we could've climbed into the top two teams. ... We started off uncertain. Hopefully, we can finish off unforgettable."

To illustrate just how well New York is playing, their 30-point victory against the Sky was the largest margin all season. They also defeated the three best teams -- Minnesota, Los Angeles and Connecticut -- back-to-back-to-back.

And New York has won 20 games for a team-record third straight season.

But all the records and win streaks and personal accomplishments (Charles was named Eastern Conference Player of the Year for a sixth time this season) don't amount to a hill of beans to coach Bill Laimbeer.

"Franchise this, franchise that. The only thing that matters is that there's no championship banner hanging," he said after the win against the Sky.

New York has not lost since Aug. 4. They were treading water at 12-12. The offense was in a funk. Then the light bulbs went on and the Liberty's identity became crystal clear.

Defense.

Over the past eight games, New York is limiting its opponents to 66.4 points per game on .377 shooting from the field and .270 from 3-point range.

Even though the Stars have the league's worst record at 7-25, the Liberty won't be taking San Antonio lightly. Kayla McBride knocked down five 3-pointers as San Antonio handed New York a 93-81 loss Aug. 1.

And top draft pick Kelsey Plum has adjusted to the pace of the WNBA after a slow start.

"Adversity" is how Plum describes her first professional season.

"You take for granted certain things when things are going well. And when things aren't going so well it gives you a better perspective," she said.

Plum has started 21 of 29 games and is averaging 8.1 points and 3.3 assists per game. She's shown flashes of brilliance, but like many rookies has had her struggles.

"I was riding on a cloud for so long, and I got brought back down to earth. There was a point in the season where I frustrated in myself and how I was playing."

In the win against the Liberty on Aug. 1, Plum scored 10 points on 3 of 10 shooting. But that game seemed to be a turning point for the all-time women's collegiate scoring leader. In her next seven games, she has averaged more than 12 points and six assists per game.

San Antonio closes out its season on Saturday in Indiana while New York's final regular season game is in Dallas on Sunday.

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