NEWARK, N.J. — Pokey Chatman laughed at the thought. Missing the playoffs last season may not have been the worst thing for the Chicago Sky.
Had Chicago ended its drought, the Sky wouldn’t have fallen into the WNBA draft lottery and gotten prized rookie Elena Delle Donne with the No. 2 pick.
Delle Donne scored 20 points and Epiphanny Prince added 18 to help the Sky rout the New York Liberty 93-64 on Sunday.
“That was the prize,” Chatman said. “That was the blessing in disguise with the disappointment. Get a player like Delle Donne and also have that sour taste in your mouth from returning players. That helps them. It worked out.”
Led by Delle Donne, Chicago (8-4) is second in the East, trailing Atlanta by 2Ω games. The Sky are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
“Making the playoffs is always a goal,” Prince said. “Having Elena now gives us another big offensive threat.”
Delle Donne leads the WNBA in All-Star voting and is fourth in the league in scoring at 19 points per game. On Sunday, she had nine points in the first quarter and helped the Sky put the game away in the third. The Sky fell just short of the biggest victory in franchise history.
“We were able to respond after a tough Seattle loss,” Delle Donne said. “We showed this team can be incredible when we’re all on and have to figure out how to do that all the time.”
Cappie Pondexter scored 18 points to lead New York (5-7), which has lost five of its last six games.
Prince, who grew up in Brooklyn, has torched her hometown team the last three times she’s played them in New Jersey. The fourth-year guard, who went to school 45 minutes down the road at Rutgers, averaged 28 points in two wins last season. She scored in bunches on Sunday, putting up 11 in the second quarter.
New York returned home off a disappointing road trip where the Liberty dropped three of the four games, including an 87-74 loss at Chicago to kick it off. The Liberty will play three more games at home before heading back out on the road.
“We have four home games in a row, hosting Chicago then going to Chicago,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said before the game. “This stretch is big for us as far as positioning in the East.”
It didn’t get off to a good start.
“I talked about before the game, historically when you come off a long trip on the West Coast you’ll be lethargic and sluggish. I warned the players what was coming, how hard Chicago was going to play,” Laimbeer said. “I tried to impress upon them they had to come and push through anything and we did not. The players are disappointed. I’m disappointed in not showing up. We didn’t show up to win the game, we showed up to play the game.”
While New York was coming home, Chicago was making its first trip East this season. Delle Donne, who starred down I-95 in her home state of Delaware, had a huge contingent of fans in attendance. They gave her a warm ovation when lineups were announced pregame and cheered every time she touched the ball.
“It was great having all those Delaware fans here,” Delle Donne said.
Chicago led 26-23 midway through the second quarter before getting hot from behind the arc. Prince hit two 3-pointers and Swin Cash added another during a 14-3 run. Prince capped the burst with a three-point play finishing a fast break led by Delle Donne which made it 40-26.
The Sky led 42-31 at the half after Pondexter hit a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left.
Chicago put the game away in the third quarter. Delle Donne got things started with a rare four-point play that made it 46-33. New York trailed 50-37 before Chicago scored 18 of the next 20 points to seal the win.
The only question in the fourth was whether New York could avert its worst home loss in Newark, since moving to New Jersey three seasons ago while Madison Square Garden was being renovated. The Liberty will be back in New York next season.
New York couldn’t avoid that dubious mark, surpassing the 21-point defeat to Atlanta on June 14, 2011. The Liberty fell short of the worst home loss ever, a 37-point defeat by Seattle in 2006.
Chicago fell short of the biggest win in franchise history, a 31-point win over Phoenix last season.
The Sky were also buoyed by the return of center Sylvia Fowles, who missed the last game — a home loss to Seattle — while she recovered from a right ankle sprain. She had 10 points and six rebounds.
“She was chomping at the bit a little bit more two days ago but there was a little bruising in there,” Chatman said. “I didn’t want her to practice at 90 percent and be sore. My goal was 20 minutes for her today. She played 21. She can alter shots, keep alive rebounds.”