NEW YORK (AP) Coming into the season, so much was made of potential distractions that could derail the New York Liberty.
All that did was bring the team closer and build chemistry that has bolstered New York to the best record in the league and in franchise history. The Liberty (23-9) clinched the top overall seed in the WNBA playoffs that begin next week with a 74-64 win over the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday night.
''We expected this team to have great chemistry,'' Liberty president Isiah Thomas said. ''When we came together these were the main things we talked about. Chemistry, doing great work in the community and being a solid defensive team. Putting together the team wasn't about putting together the best talent, but the best people.''
Thomas was at the center of the controversy that swirled around New York when he was hired in May as the team's president and potential owner. His last stint in New York ended poorly when he was in charge of the Knicks.
He has been nothing but a positive for the Liberty this year since the initial shock of his hiring subsided. From getting games on TV to securing additional player and team resources, he has made a difference.
''Lots of things could have distracted us,'' veteran Swin Cash said. ''The reality is we were forced to figure it out. We didn't have time to let it work itself out. Everyone responded. I can't recall in my 14 years of playing seeing anything like that, especially as much as media attention as we had. I was proud of how every player handled that on the outside and internally.''
New York got off to a slow start splitting its first eight games before things really turned around. The Liberty have won 19 of 24 since heading into the final two games of the regular season.
''We didn't start off great, we made a couple of changes as (Bill) Laimbeer tweaked the rotation a little bit,'' Thomas said. ''We were strong enough that we could weather the storm in terms of finding the right way to play.''
Now the Liberty are in a good position to bring home the first championship in franchise history owning the best record in the league.
''It means if you win your home games you win the championship,'' New York coach Bill Laimbeer said. ''You still have to win them. We don't get bonuses or trophies for the regular season best record. All it does is give us the opportunity to play at home in big games. Great, we like playing at home. If we win at home we're the champions.''
Laimbeer also coached the last Eastern Conference team that finished the regular season with the league's best record - the Detroit Shock in 2007.
The Liberty have been to the WNBA Finals four times and come up empty in each trip. They hope for a different ending this time led by New York natives Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince. Charles had 16 points and 13 rebounds in Wednesday's win. She became the 18th player in league history to surpass 2,000 rebounds in her career. Prince led the team with 25 points and the team is 17-5 when she's in the lineup. The Brooklyn native missed the first 10 games of the season while fulfilling an overseas commitment.
''That's why we came here,'' Charles said. ''Epiphanny and I want to bring a championship to New York.''
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