The Sun (5-8) entered play Friday occupying the eighth and final playoff spot, but they also are only 1 ½ games behind sixth-place Phoenix with nine games remaining. Last year's WNBA finalists are still trying to climb out of the hole they created with an 0-5 start, and the gap between the Sun and the WNBA's elite was again on display Thursday in a 99-78 loss to Las Vegas.
DeWanna Bonner and Briann January helped Connecticut race to an eight-point lead in the first quarter, but the Sun could not sustain that momentum - Bonner was held to two points in the final three quarters, and the Sun allowed the Aces to shoot 56.3 percent.
For Sun coach Curt Miller, the silver lining was the breakout game for January, who finished with 15 points in 24 minutes in her fifth game back after successfully dealing with COVID-19. January had totaled six points in her previous four games after being cleared to return.
"She's starting to get her legs underneath her and back into game shape," Miller said of the 12-year pro, who hit all three of her 3-pointers and 6 of 9 overall. "Obviously, it's a tough return for COVID for all these guys down here, but you can she's more and more comfortable. ... It was nice to see Briann January step up and hit some open threes."
New York (1-11) has lost six straight since upsetting defending WNBA champion Washington for its lone win in the "wubble," and appears to be tracking to claiming the No. 1 overall pick for the second straight year. This year's No. 1 selection - Sabrina Ionescu - remains sidelined with a sprained ankle, and the young Liberty squad has struggled mightily on the defensive end.
The latest example of those shortcomings came in Thursday night's 101-85 loss to Chicago, the second straight game New York has yielded 100 or more points. The Liberty have allowed 92.8 points per game during their losing streak and are ahead of only Atlanta in scoring defense at 89.6 per contest.
"The main thing that can't be understated is how hard our team played the entire game," first-year coach Walter Hopkins said. "There wasn't a moment of quit, there wasn't a moment of 'Poor us,' it was all fight, fight, fight, and that's the team I love to be around and coach. I'm proud of them.
Jazmine Jones had 18 points off the bench and Kia Nurse added 17 as the two have emerged as New York's top offensive threats without Ionescu. Jones has reached double figures in her last five games, averaging 15.2 points in that span, and Nurse has totaled 38 points in her last two games while shooting 12 of 26, raising her shooting percentage to 25.2 for the season.
Connecticut swept last year's three games and has won five of the last six matchups.