The Connecticut Sun mathematically wrapped up first seed in the Eastern Conference last week then reinforced it by beating second-place Indiana Wednesday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
On Friday, the Sun got their marching orders for the first-round of the playoffs against the New York Liberty. The best-of-three will begin Thursday at the casino at 8, before continuing Saturday at 7 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., with Game 2.
“How do I like the matchup? Well, it’s less travel for us,” said Sun coach Mike Thibault. “We’ve beaten them [4 of 5 games] but they’ve been hard games, struggles. They will be tough.”
Still, the Sun has more work to do to put themselves into the best possible position for the start of the postseason.
And that will be the chore Sunday when the Sun (24-9) ends the regular season against the Atlanta Dream at the casino.
The Sun will have home court throughout the conference playoffs. If they make the WNBA Finals, against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx, the Lynx will have home court by virtue of a better record, no matter what the Sun does Sunday.
However, if the Sun beats the Dream, they will wrap up home court against the other three Western contenders, San Antonio, Seattle and Los Angeles, which wrapped up its regular season Thursday at 24-10 with a home win over the Lynx.
“We are going to come out and be professional,” said Asjha Jones.
Thibault obviously wants the home court. He wants it so much he plans to use his regular starting lineup Sunday and play the game to win. Only Danielle McCray [MCL sprain] will not play.
“Well, if Minnesota had won [in Los Angeles on Thursday] it would have helped my decision about Sunday’s game,” said Thibault. “I’ll even start Asjha Jones [for the first time since July 11] and see how it goes. We don’t want her sitting around on the bench after warm-ups and getting stiff. And we’ll see how the first half goes before deciding whether to shut her down in the second.”
Jones, the veteran forward, missed 14 straight games after aggravating her Achilles’ tendon July 11 against Washington. After playing in the Olympics, she returned to Connecticut and rested the injury until returning to play five minutes in Wednesday’s win over the Fever.
“It was a little weird after so much time off,” said Jones. “You don’t have all of tour timing. You don’t feel natural on the floor. I was worried about that.”
Thibault says the team is aware of what’s at stake Sunday.
“I’ve put it into terms as if this was a playoff game, but the players know that Los Angeles is playing well and that it is as capable of winning the conference as any of the teams. We can’t have it [home court] against Minnesota, but we can have it against everyone else and that makes a big difference.
The Sparks, led by MVP candidate Candace Parker, won both regular-season games against the Sun and tied the Lynx for the best home record (17-1).
On a personal level, Sun center Tina Charles is on the verge of the rebounding championship after securing her 18th double-double on Wednesday. She is averaging 10.5 rebounds, slightly better than Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles, who began the weekend averaging 10.4.
And Kara Lawson will win the free throw shooting title, for players with more than 100 attempts. Lawson comes into Sunday’s game at 93.3 percent (98-of-105).
“You know what, it’s not something I even work on it … ever,” said Lawson. “My coach in pee-wee basketball taught me how to shoot them when I was in third grade; shoot them the same way, never change. That’s the reason I crouch so low. When I was a kid, the only way I could get the ball high enough to reach the basket was to heave it … I’ve been shooting the same way ever since, so after 20 years, I better be making them.”
Both Charles and Lawson are serious contenders for first-team consideration. Guard Renee Montgomery, a former starter who has come off the bench all season, could win the league’s sixth man award.
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