September 23, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) After securing their first trip to the Eastern Conference finals in five years, the New York Liberty have little time to enjoy it.

That's because their series with the Indiana Fever will begin Wednesday night, less than 24 hours after New York edged Washington 79-74 in a decisive Game 3 of their opening round series.

The Liberty petitioned the league to let them start the series Wednesday because the Pope is coming to New York and will be at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

''You can only control what you can control,'' said New York's Tina Charles, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Washington Tuesday night. ''It's the playoffs, you'll be ready.''

Indiana chose to fly into New York on Tuesday afternoon instead of waiting to see if the Liberty won. Coach Stephanie White, her staff and some of the Fever players were in attendance watching New York's reserves carry the Liberty out of the first round for the first time since 2010.

''We thought it was better to travel today then wait for the outcome of the game,'' White said. ''It was going to put us at a disadvantage to wait and there's no reason for that.''

While the Eastern Conference finals will begin Wednesday, Minnesota and Phoenix will play Game 1 on Thursday in the West. It's the third straight season these two teams have met with a chance to go to the WNBA Finals. Minnesota won in 2012 and 2013. Phoenix was victorious last season en route to winning the championship.

Asked if the loss to the Mercury last season provides any added motivation this time around, Lynx point guard Lindsey Whalen said, ''Our group is always hungry. No matter what.''

Here are a few things to look for in the Eastern Conference finals:

BACK AGAIN: The Indiana Fever are back in the Eastern Conference finals for the fifth straight season, matching the league record set by Los Angeles from 1999-03. This might be the most unexpected one of the streak, especially after dropping Game 1 to Chicago.

But then Tamika Catchings took over and Indiana found itself in a familiar place.

Minnesota also advanced to the conference finals for the fifth straight year.

SWORDS HEALTH: New York starting center Carolyn Swords missed Game 3 with a right foot injury. Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said that she is day-to-day.

''We held her out today and it's unclear for tomorrow,'' Laimbeer said. ''It's a three-game series and you can't win it all in Game 1.''

Game 2 isn't until Sunday, so if Swords can't go on Wednesday, she'll have more time to heal.

CROWD SUPPORT: New York drew an average of nearly 9,700 fans in the two home games in the first round. The Liberty only have 24 hours to sell tickets for the opener Wednesday.

''I give all the credit in the world to our staff of ticket sales people,'' Laimbeer said. ''To get people to come in the building on short notice. That's the second crowd in a row that's been phenomenal. They were loud, into it. Great to be in the Garden for our players.''

White was impressed with the Garden crowd Tuesday night.

''This reminds me of the old Garden days before the renovation when it was rocking all the time, the crowd gives you so much energy and they definitely fed off it.''

REGULAR SEASON ROMP: Indiana won four of the five meetings in the regular season, but the Fever know better than to assume they will have the same success in the postseason. Indiana just knocked off Chicago after losing all four games in the regular season.

''You throw those out,'' White said. ''The postseason is a whole different ballgame.''

BENCH PLAY: The series could come down to the play of the reserves. In New York's loss to Washington in Game 1, the Liberty bench didn't provide much offense. In the clinching Game 3 victory, New York outscored Washington 40-19. Indiana shortened up its rotation in the deciding game against Chicago, but the Fever have a talented group of reserves as well.

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