Liberty-Sky Preview

The Associated Press

Elena Delle Donne's absence has taken a toll on the Chicago Sky.

Fortunately for them, she's set to return.

The Sky get their star back Thursday night when they host the New York Liberty.

Chicago (10-16) has stumbled with Delle Donne sidelined, dropping eight of 10 to fall 1 1/2 games behind New York for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

She sat out for the 17th time in 18 games Tuesday, a 92-74 loss at San Antonio, due to flareups of Lyme disease. The Sky are 5-12 without Delle Donne.

The 2013 Rookie of the Year, who has averaged a team-best 21.2 points in nine games, will come off the bench and plans to play about 20 minutes.

Epiphanny Prince scored 23 on Tuesday as the Sky played without point guard Courtney Vandersloot for an 11th straight game due to a sprained left MCL. Vandersloot, the team leader with 6.4 assists, is expected to miss at least another two weeks.

Chicago was outrebounded 39-30 and allowed San Antonio to shoot 50.7 percent from the floor.

"We've been talking about (stepping up) for a long time, probably eight games ago," coach Pokey Chatman said. "It's easy to read who's not here and the focus needs to be on who's here. We've not had people here all year, that's just part of it.

"It's part of any sport, so I just make sure we kept top of mind (of our mind) that if we do the dirt work - defend, rebound, get the 50/50 ball - you give yourself an opportunity and that's what we didn't do."

Thursday's matchup could be a prime opportunity for a turnaround given the Sky's nine straight wins in the series. The Liberty (11-14) last defeated them by a 77-67 score in Chicago on Aug. 21, 2012.

New York, though, has won four of five to pull ahead of the Sky in the standings. It's coming off an 80-76 overtime victory over Washington on Tuesday, winning despite squandering a 15-point third-quarter lead.

"For the win itself, it was a very big win for our franchise," coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We're trying to catch anybody and everybody in front of us. ... Every win we can get, especially home wins are so important. It would have been very disappointing for us to lose this game."

This is the first of three straight road contests against East foes for New York.

"These games are all important, but we'll take them one at a time," said Tina Charles, who scored 23 and has averaged 21.8 points in her last nine.

Delle Donne scored 23 in a 79-65 win at New York on May 17.

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