Wings brace for red-hot Liberty

The New York Liberty have come a long way this season.

The Liberty rode what amounted to nothing more than a roller coaster of mediocrity for the first two months of the 2017. There was a 15-point loss to Los Angeles and an embarrassing defeat to the Washington Mystics when they scored 54 points.

Sandwiched between those losses was a four-game win streak. Coach Bill Laimbeer always knew the pieces were in place to be elite, but getting his squad to play as a team, to focus on defense and come together as one were other questions.

And then August happened and the Liberty returned to Madison Square Garden with a 12-12 record after taking another one on the chin against the Sparks.

Maybe it was an omen that Chelsea Clinton sat courtside signing copies of her book, "She Persisted."

The Liberty persisted that night against the Fever and won 81-76. And they've been persisting and imposing their will against their opponents ever since.

After beating the Dream next time out, there was a new-found confidence that helped the Liberty beat the Sparks, Mystics and Suns back-to-back-to-back.

"We've come a long way," Shavonte Zellous said as the Liberty put a nine-game winning streak on the line in their final regular season contest against the host Dallas Wings on Sunday. "I think you're starting to see where our chemistry is starting to get better. Our defensive execution is getting better. Our offensive execution is getting better. There's not one player on this team that's living in a selfish moment."

That's not good news for whomever New York will face in the postseason. By finishing as one of the top four teams, the Liberty have earned a first-round bye. They can tie a franchise record for consecutive wins Sunday.

But the Liberty know what their coach thinks of records and just making the playoffs.

"Making the playoffs? It doesn't mean a damn thing," Laimbeer told Newsday last week. "We were expecting to make the playoffs. ... Big deal. There are bigger things out there."

Making the playoffs is a big deal for the Wings (16-17). It's the first time the franchise has made the postseason since moving to Dallas.

The Wings earned the right to celebrate after being the Chicago Sky 99-96 on Wednesday.

After a slow first half, the Wings came back behind Skylar Diggins-Smith and Glory Johnson. Diggins-Smith led the team with 28 points, along with eight assists, while Johnson chipped in with 25 points.

No one was happier than Johnson to be part of the playoff clinching win. It was Johnson who was suspended for one game after getting into an altercation in Atlanta on Aug. 19.

"Now that we're in that position that we can make that push and it looks like that's the way we're going to go, I'm really excited," Johnson said. "I'm glad to be a part of it."

The Wings lost to Connecticut without having Johnson and her 14.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. That loss could have been devastating, but the Wings bounced back and have won two straight heading into Sunday's playoff tune-up.
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