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Ionescu to return for Dream matchup

Point guard healthy for Liberty's rematch with Atlanta

June 22, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Sabrina Ionescu is returning to Atlanta, where she gave the Dream nightmares on her last visit.

The All-Star point guard, who has missed the last two games with a sore left hamstring, went through a full practice in Brooklyn on Wednesday and is expected back on the hardwood at Gateway Center when the New York Liberty re-visit the Dream Friday night.

Ionescu lit up Atlanta (5-6) for a career-high 37 points in a 106-83 victory on June 9, knocking down a franchise-record eight 3-pointers while dishing out four assists, grabbing four boards and drilling all but one of her 10 free-throw attempts.

The University of Oregon alum and two-time Wooden Award winner as the best collegiate player in the nation poured in 22 points in a win vs. Dallas two nights later at Barclays Center.

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But she hasn’t played since.

The hamstring kept Ionescu out of a June 13 loss to the Dream on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, and she also sat out Sunday’s 89-71 home win over Phoenix.

Ionescu ranks second on the team with 16.5 points per contest and is averaging a team-best 3.4 3-pointers made. She is hitting a blistering 42 percent of her shots from beyond the arc this year.

Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello and star forward Breanna Stewart will be happy to have Sabrina Ionescu back on the court Friday in Atlanta. AP Photo by Bebeto Matthews

Liberty sharp-shooter Marine Johannes has filled in admirably in the Brooklyn backcourt the past two games for Ionescu, settling in alongside future Hall of Famer Courtney Vandersloot, the WNBA’s all-time leader in assists.

Johannes scored a game-high 18 points in the loss to Atlanta and added 10 points, three assists and three steals against the Mercury last weekend.

“I just try to stay confident. I just try to shoot my shot and continue like that,” she said after Sunday’s win.

Winners of three of their last four contests, the Liberty (7-3) will be shooting for the season series win against the Dream, who had a three-game winning streak snapped in Dallas on Tuesday.

Cheyenne Parker and Rhyne Howard had 15 points apiece for Atlanta, which has climbed into fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with its recent resurgence following a 2-5 start.

New York ranks second in the East, 1 1/2 game behind conference-leading Connecticut, which it will visit on Tuesday.

The Liberty have been spearheaded by early season Most Valuable Player front-runner Breanna Stewart, who had 28 points to go with season bests of 14 rebounds and seven assists vs. Phoenix on Sunday.

New York handed out 25 assists on 30 made baskets against the Mercury, with Stewart ball-handling more than usual in Ionescu’s absence.

“We have players that want to buy in to the way we play,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said of her team’s unselfishness.

“When we move the ball, we have better results. Great players still have to buy in for it. I think that’s way more fun to play than individual basketball.”

Breanna Stewart will try to add to her MVP-type numbers Friday when the Liberty try to take the rubber game of their season series vs. Atlanta. AP Photo by Lindsey Wasson

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Liberty forward Jonquel Jones, the 2021 WNBA MVP, had her best all-around game of the season Sunday vs. Phoenix, scoring 13 points, grabbing 11 boards, handing out three assists and blocking a shot in 23 minutes. … Friday’s game at Atlanta will be televised on ION TV at 7:30 p.m. The Liberty will host Washington back in Brooklyn on Sunday at 1 p.m. That game can be watched on ABC.

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