The Chicago Sky didn't have Sylvia Fowles when they visited the Liberty earlier this week, but it turns out they barely missed the league's leading rebounder.
They haven't needed much more than Elena Delle Donne this season against New York.
With their star rookie leading the way to three easy wins over the Liberty in the past month, the Sky should feel confident again when they finish a home-and-home set with visiting New York on Saturday night.
Delle Donne's arrival seems to have sparked a culture change for Chicago (11-4), which has failed to make the playoffs in any of its seven seasons and never even finished .500.
Both of those benchmarks appear to be a given at this point. With Fowles sitting with a right ankle sprain Thursday at New York, Delle Donne scored 23 points and had four blocks as the Sky built a 25-point first-quarter lead and cruised to a 75-55 win.
"Last year the focus was we have to make the playoffs," said forward Swin Cash, the only member of Chicago's roster to have played significant minutes in the postseason. "This year it's 'We're making the playoffs and we'll see what happens after that.' We know what we want at the end."
Delle Donne, the top vote getter for the league's July 27 All-Star game, has the look of someone who can help get them there. She's averaging 19.4 points, easily the most among rookies and among the league's top five overall.
Delle Donne had 10 points in the first seven minutes Thursday, and Chicago scored the game's first 13 points.
"That was huge," coach Pokey Chatman said. "I always talk about punching first. We say that as a coach."
Anything New York coach Bill Laimbeer has to say to his team before Saturday's rematch likely will be geared around stopping Delle Donne. She's scored at least 20 points in all three meetings with the Liberty (6-9) as the Sky have won by an average of 20.7 points.
As they always seem to be with New York, the league's most turnover-prone team, miscues have played a big role in the outcome. The Liberty have a minus-26 turnover differential in the three losses to Chicago.
In Laimbeer's mind, a lack of focus seems to be as telling as anything about his team's struggles. The game was essentially over midway through the first quarter Thursday, and New York was outscored 31-6 by Indiana in the third quarter last Saturday after trailing by three at halftime.
"We have an issue where we have a quarter where we blank out," Laimbeer said. "Same thing that's happened to us the last five games."
Even if Fowles, who's questionable, sits again, the Liberty should have their hands full if Cappie Pondexter can't figure out her offensive issues. Named this week as a starter for her fifth All-Star game, Pondexter went 2 for 11 and had seven turnovers Thursday. She's shooting 21.9 percent over her last three games.
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- Elena Delle Donne
- New York
- Sylvia Fowles