Liberty still looking for pieces to fit
New York faces defending champion Indiana on Tuesday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET)
Katie Smith has played pro basketball for a long time. Nobody has to tell her that seasons don't always turn out quite the way you planned.
Smith came to New York for the final year of her storied WNBA career to reunite with Bill Laimbeer, who was reassembling many key pieces from the Detroit Shock's successful seasons of a decade ago. But reassembling success is a different matter entirely.
The New York Liberty have lost six of their past seven games and three in a row by an average margin of 16.7 points.
And Tuesday's game at the defending WNBA champion Indiana Fever (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) is another barometer -- a game that will tell the Liberty whether they are heading in a good direction entering the second half of the season or, well, not.
The storyline in New York before the season began was about how Laimbeer was getting a lot of the old gang back together -- bringing in Smith and forward Cheryl Ford to join former Shock players Plenette Pierson and Kara Braxton -- hoping to recapture a winning attitude in Detroit that looked like it could be a great fit in New York.
But so far, winning has been elusive, and the attitude is still evolving as well.
"We are at a place where we need to keep getting better and win our home games," Smith said. "We are still are a work in progress."
Which is a tough spot to be halfway through a lightning-fast WNBA schedule. That too, the Liberty are playing without one player who used to play a big role and another who recently has.
Ford, who won three titles with Laimbeer in Detroit, had been gone from the WNBA for the past three seasons before coming back. The power forward couldn't get back to the kind of shape she needed on a bad knee to compete. Laimbeer waived Ford in mid-June.
Meanwhile, Essence Carson, New York's leading scorer and rebounder in the early part of the season, was lost for the season June 8 with a torn ACL.
"injuries are part of the deal," Smith said. "There are many people in the league who are dealing with the same thing, but we are missing Essence. It put a kink in there, and we've had to have different rotations."
The Liberty have struggled to score -- ranking 10th out of 12 teams in scoring offense -- and to maintain possession of the basketball. They are averaging a league-high 18.4 turnovers a game. Signing second-year point guard Samantha Prahalis to a seven-day contract on Monday might be a means to stemming that tide.
"Anytime you are turning the ball over that much, it makes it very hard to get anything going offensively," Pierson said. "We are struggling to score and for us not to take care of the ball and capitalize on possessions, it makes it very hard to compete and be in the game."
Cappie Pondexter is the centerpiece player in New York, and Carson was providing great scoring support. Now Smith is starting in Carson's place, wringing the last points out of her pro career.
Fortunately, Pondexter, who is making a transition to point guard under Laimbeer, is coming out of a shooting slump. She scored 22 points on Saturday in a loss to Chicago that ended a three-game run in which she'd hit just 21.9 percent of her shots.
"I am here to make life easier for Cappie," Smith said.
The Liberty are an interesting mix of veteran players -- three players with at least seven years in the league -- and young talent -- now four rookies on the roster with Prahalis.
"We have a young team and that's not an excuse," Smith said. "But they are learning on the fly how to make it."
Pierson said the younger players are receptive, but are still making the adjustment to the physicality of the league and the fact that no game is a gimme.
"I think you used to be able to look at the schedule and see winnable games, but now every night is a championship battle and I think some of these players haven't faced that before," Pierson said. "But every day is a new day to correct mistakes and do what we are doing. We are fighting hard in games, and we have to put 40 minutes together."
New York has to find a way to play well in the two games before the All-Star break and then another 16 afterward if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.
"If we make strides, we are right in the mix," Smith said. "Everybody in the league is talented, but I think it's more top to bottom now," Smith said. "You really have to do the little things."
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