Despite Loss, Liberty Knows What They Must Improve

There is an old saying, ‘Man makes plans and God laughs.’

Welcome to Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer’s world. Laimbeer said earlier this month that it would take four games for him to make a solid assessment on whether or not the team’s preseason goal of playing for the WNBA title still was legit.

The fourth game was Friday night, an 87-81 loss at the Seattle Storm that left New York with a 2-2 record. It also served as a stark reminder of how unpredictable life in a league with 144 of the best women’s players in the world can be.

The Liberty led 63-53 with 1:48 left in the third quarter when one Sami Whitcomb, a 28-year-old rookie who was a star in Australia, hit the first of what would be six 3-pointers to spark a Storm comeback.

Whitcomb, who had scored three points on 1-of-4 shooting on 3’s in her first three WNBA games, scored a career-high 22 on 6-of-8 shooting from behind the stripe.

“We knew she was a shooter,’’ Laimbeer said. “She made all the big shots. Give her credit.”

And give Laimbeer a couple of Advil.

He’s already had to deal with losing starting point guard Brittany Boyd for the season. At the start of June, he will lose guard Epiphanny Prince and center Kia Vaughn to the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket tournament.

[Robbins: Liberty Dealt Blow Losing Boyd]

The reigning WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks come to The Garden Tuesday (7 p.m.; ESPN2). L.A., led by Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker and Essence Carson, were 2-1 going into its Saturday afternoon game in Atlanta against the Dream.

By the time the Sparks get to The Garden, they will be playing the final game of three-game East Coast road trip, which should benefit the Liberty. But if the mantra is to focus on the Liberty and not the opponent then it’s clear what must be addressed.

In the Liberty’s two wins they allowed just 65.5 points per game. In the two losses, they surrendered 88.5. The Liberty beat San Antonio, 73-64, and Phoenix, 69-67, while losing 90-71 to Minnesota and 87-81 to Seattle.

“We want to be a team that outworks every other team every night,’’ said guard Sugar Rodgers who scored 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting from behind the arc. “That’s something Bill has harped on for the season, valuing every possession, valuing a presence on the defensive end.’’

The defense must improve.

After not playing with the level of physicality that Laimbeer demands from his teams in the season-opening win over the San Antonio Stars, the Liberty has played with much more intensity and physicality.

In a conference call Friday afternoon, Tina Charles and Rodgers said they were not focused on the first four games or the next opponents. The focus is on getting New York to be the most intense, physical and detail-oriented team in the WNBA.

[Robbins: Liberty Looking to Establish Championship Caliber Identity]

“We’re going to keep holding each other accountable,’’ said Charles. “The trust that we’re building in one another, that’s what we’re holding on to.”

Charles, who has embraced her role as the team leader along with being the best player, was at her best in the second half of Friday night’s loss. After scoring just six points in the first half, Charles scored 18 of her game-high 28 in the third quarter as the Liberty built its 10-point lead.

But Whitcomb was the ‘X’ factor.

“We have respect for every single player,’’ Charles said. “We know she’s a three-point shooter. But once you get hot, once you get your confidence, you can shoot it from half court. And that’s exactly what she was doing.”

The Liberty can’t let a rookie role player such as Whitcomb take over a game. They can’t worry about the impending loss of Prince and Vaughn. And they’re not.

“If we play with the intensity that we did today, we’ll be okay,’’ Laimbeer said. “We’re going to lose a couple of players to Europe, which will hurt us, but we’ll just keep on plugging away.”

Plugging away and improving on defense. If the Liberty does that, they just might be able to absorb the loss of Boyd, Prince and Vaughn.

“I think we’re in a great situation right now, but we’re going to lose Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn due to their national team duties,’’ Charles said. “Other than that, we’ve just got to keep playing hard and competing, which we’ve been doing.”