NEWARK, N.J. -- The culture is changing around the Sky and rookie Elena Delle Donne is a big reason why.
Delle Donne scored 23 points and the Sky routed the New York Liberty 75-55 in a matinee game on Thursday. She's leading the team in scoring, averaging 19 points, and has helped Chicago take over sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference.
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It's the latest in the season that the Sky (11-4) have been in first since the team came into the WNBA in 2006. Chicago is still looking for its first trip to the postseason after missing by one game last year.
Plenette Pierson and Kelsey Bone each scored 11 points to lead New York (6-9), which has dropped five of its last six games.
The Sky don't have much playoff experience on the roster. Only Swin Cash, Shay Murphy and Allie Quigley have even been in the playoffs. Of the three, only Cash has gotten meaningful time in the postseason.
"Last year the focus was we have to make the playoffs," said Cash, who has won three WNBA titles. "This year it's `We're making the playoffs and we'll see what happens after that.' We know what we want at the end.
"All I can do I share my experiences with my teammates. This team really listens and takes to heart some of the things I try to tell them. We're a hungry bunch."
The Sky won Thursday without starting center Sylvia Fowles, who missed the game after aggravating a right ankle sprain in Chicago's win over Connecticut last week.
Chicago jumped all over the Liberty, building a 13-0 lead early in the game and never looked back.
"That was huge," Chicago coach Pokey Chatman said. "I always talk about punching first. We say that as a coach. Nice to see us do that in Connecticut. It says something when you're on the road. People are comfortable at home, it was an early game. They make it easy when they come out with a start like that. Sylvia's not here but it's OK, now the monkey's off everyone's back."
It was the second straight game that Chicago got off to a strong start. The Sky scored the first 12 points against Connecticut last Friday before cruising in that game.
The Sky's early run started with a 3-pointer by Delle Donne. Chicago made five of its six 3-pointers in the quarter and led 34-11.
"That always helps when everyone is hitting and is on fire," Delle Donne said.
Chicago, which has five straight wins against New York, cooled off in the second quarter. The Sky missed 12 of its first 13 shots, but New York could only close to 41-25 at halftime.
The Sky put the game away in the third quarter as Delle Donne had seven points in a 13-3 burst to open the period. Her deep 3-pointer from the wing made it 54-28 with 6:23 left in the quarter.
The Liberty couldn't get within 19 the rest of the game.
Shay Murphy scored 12 points for Chicago and Carolyn Swords, who started in place of Fowles, added a season-high 12 points. She also had five steals.
"We told her if you screen and roll, you get to play one on one," Chatman said. "We gave her the game ball, she did a good job. She had five steals. Here's someone 6-foot-6 who doesn't have quick feet but has a quick mind."
It's been a disappointing four-game homestand for the Liberty. They were blown out in three of their games, including twice by Chicago. New York heads on the road for a pivotal four-game stretch that begins against the Sky on Saturday and sits tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with a rapidly improving Indiana team.
The Liberty have played well in stretches, but coach Bill Laimbeer has been concerned about his team giving up one really bad quarter each game. On Thursday, it came in the first and they never recovered.
"We have an issue where we have a quarter where we blank out," Laimbeer said. "Same thing that's happened to us the last five games."
Despite the morning tipoff, the game had a boisterous atmosphere with thousands of local camp kids waving and pounding thundersticks. The kids cheered even with the home team down by nearly 30 points in the fourth quarter.
"Kids are great. They are always cheering and yelling no matter what's going on," Delle Donne said.
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