New York Liberty Can't Win On Talent Alone

I can hear the positive-but-anxious Liberty fans already crying “Remember 2010,” referring to New York’s remarkable 10-game winning streak that propelled the team into the playoffs and eventually a spot in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. It’s nice that we can use last season’s success as a rallying call, but repeating that feat in 2011 is as certain as the Liberty defense – you just can’t put your money on it right now.

Last night’s loss to Los Angeles in the WNBA’s 15th Anniversary Game has put the Liberty in a 2-4 hole with a tough five-game stretch on the horizon, including a home rematch against the Sparks and a back-to-back series against Becky Hammon and the Silver Stars. Picked by many to advance to the championship finals, the Libs might possibly start this year 3-8. No one could have possibly drafted this beginning.

You can only describe the team as one giant paradox – it’s a collection of unlimited talent that is reaching for mediocrity. To say that they’re underachieving is a major understatement.

So much was made of John Whisenant’s no-nonsense philosophy of defense and rebounding, but it’s becoming more and more evident that it’s either not working or no one is buying into it. These ladies are professional, so I believe the former is true. Something just isn’t right.

The Liberty again were unable to stop their opponent’s frontcourt, allowing Sparks’ big three of Candace Parker, Tina Thompson and DeLisha Milton-Jones to go off for 63 points. L.A. was also stellar from behind the arc, knocking down 58 percent of their 3-point shots.

Something has to give in Coach Whiz’s system. We’re not talking a major shakeup; the players have proven that they can defend the ball, they just need consistency. Perhaps Whisenant can tinker with his personnel, mix and match his players thoroughly.

Whiz took his first step in lineup experiments, inserting Leilani Mitchell into the starting 5 two games ago. The change has paid dividends, particularly for all-world shooter Cappie Pondexter. Pondexter is back to her old scoring self, averaging 21 points per game with Mitchell as her starting backcourt partner.

Former Eastside High and Rutgers star Essence Carson, who was bumped out of the starting lineup in favor of Mitchell, played 20 minutes against the Sparks but was noticeably absent during crucial moments in the third and fourth quarters. Whiz is still using rookies Jessica Breland, Sydney Colson and Alex Montgomery very sparingly, though each appears capable of holding her own.

Whiz stresses boards and defense, but the Libs still aren’t winning those battles. Who knows what he’s thinking? Let’s just hope that he has a Plan B up his sleeve because the team can’t afford to play anymore games with an ineffective Plan A.