Chicago Sky 'laser focused' ahead of WNBA title defense, first-round vs. New York Liberty




Candace Parker of the WNBA
Candace Parker of the WNBA's Chicago Sky dribbles the basketball down the court  

As the No. 2-seeded Chicago Sky embark on their bid to become the first franchise to repeat as WNBA champions in 20 years, All-Star guard Kahleah Copper says being the defending champs provides an advantage when they tip off their first-round, best-of-three series Wednesday vs. the No. 7-seeded New York Liberty.

"We know how hard it is to win in the playoffs," Copper, the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP, told media on Tuesday. "I think we're laser focused. It's a different setup - like, no, it's not a single-elimination game, but our sense of urgency still has to be there. So, I think we're trying to lock in on that and really locking in on how we're starting games."

2022 WNBA Playoffs: How to watch, schedule, bracket and more

The Sky are aiming to become the first repeat WNBA title winners since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks. They were the first WNBA team to secure a 2022 playoff berth, clinching their spot with a 78-74 win over the Seattle Storm on July 20. Their dominant 26-10 season matched the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces for the best in the league, and Chicago's .722 win percentage marked a new franchise record. What's more, the Sky had the league's best record at home (14-4) this season.

But they're still prepared to contend with a confident Liberty squad, who earned their spot in the WNBA playoffs for the second year in a row after beating Atlanta 87-83 in their season finale.

"I don't look at us as underdogs," said Liberty forward Betnijah Laney. "We've beaten them before; we've competed with them. It's just the seeding, and they're just the next opponent that we have."

"We played them four times this season," added New York center Stefanie Dolson, who played for Chicago for five years, including in 2021. "… And I think it gives us that advantage, though, to be able to play them so many times in the season, to have us scouting and I know a lot of their players. So, it definitely gives us some inside information."

However, the Sky handily won the regular-season series against the Liberty, 3-1, and still have plenty of key players on the roster including Copper, two-time league MVP Candace Parker and 2019 WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, who's in her first season with the Sky.

The Liberty counter with scoring leader Sabrina Ionescu (17.4 points), who also leads the team in assists (6.3), and she and forward Natasha Howard (15.1 points, 7.3 rebounds) combine for more than 14 rebounds per game. They also benefit from some first-hand knowledge regarding what it's like to face Chicago in postseason play from first-year coach Sandy Brunello, who faced the Sky in last year's Finals as coach of the Phoenix Mercury.

Containing Ionescu will be top priority for the Sky. In just her third year in the league, the 24-year-old first-round pick out of Oregon earned her first All-Star nod and made history as the first player in league history to post at least 500 points, 200 rebounds and 200 assists in a single season. She also added two triple-doubles to her resume, tying Parker for the all-time lead with three.

"I think we have a great game plan," Copper said regarding containing Ionescu, "and we're gonna do what we can to slow down a really good player."

The 2022 WNBA Playoffs usher in a new playoff format. After six years of single-elimination games in the first and second rounds, the first round this year features a best-of three series, with the higher seed hosting the first two games, and if necessary, the lower seed hosting the decisive third game.

"You could definitely say that I feel like we come out (winning Game 1), we set the tone," added Copper. "You don't want to give the other team confidence; you don't want to give them any hope. You want to take care of business, especially at home."

Dolson, on the other hand, sees the advantage as the lower seed: "I think it just gives us obviously more of a chance," she said. "'One-and-done' is great for the lower seed; heartbreak for the higher seed. … Anything can happen in one game, so having a series gives us a little bit more of a chance to just play smarter and throw things out there to just try to throw the other team off."

How to Watch the Chicago Sky vs. New York Liberty in the 2022 WNBA Playoffs

  • Game 1 - Wednesday, August 17: New York at Chicago (8pm ET on ESPN2)

  • Game 2 - Saturday, August 20: New York at Chicago (12pm ET on ESPN)

  • Game 3 (if necessary) - Tuesday, August 23: Chicago at New York (TBD)

MORE WNBA COVERAGE: The words that sparked Natasha Cloud's social justice fight? 'We need your help'

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2022 WNBA Playoffs: How to watch, schedule, bracket and more Olympic champion Ellia Green comes out as transgender, advocates for inclusion Aliyah Boston snags spot on USA Basketball training camp roster

Chicago Sky 'laser focused' ahead of WNBA title defense, first-round vs. New York Liberty originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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