In theory, this Liberty season was supposed to be about new starts: Its roster went through a youth movement, longtime star Cappie Pondexter left for Chicago and new team president Isiah Thomas moved in.

And the Liberty did look like a team revived in last night's season opener at the Garden, an 82-73 win over the Atlanta Dream. Even though a lot of the time, it was the same old Tina Charles and Swin Cash doing the reviving.

"The chemistry, I can't say enough about it," pumped-up coach Bill Laimbeer said. "I know how we're going to play and I know how intense we're going to play . . . and anyone who saw them today saw that on display."

Charles did what she does best, scoring 17 points to go with 12 rebounds. The new-look Liberty meshed well and dominated in almost every aspect.

The only significant hiccup came early, when the Dream's Shoni Schimmel hit a jumper for a 12-10 lead. But the hiccups didn't last long. Brittany Boyd, who looked confident and strong in her Liberty debut, sank both ends of a one-and-one to tie it and Charles hit a layup with 4:31 left in the first quarter to give the Liberty the lead for good.

"This is such light years from what we've had the last couple of years," Laimbeer said. "This is fun."

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The Liberty went ahead 40-23 when Charles hit a foul shot with 4:50 to go in the second quarter. The Dream cut the lead to six, but a layup by Cash (off a defensive rebound by Charles) helped the Liberty take a 51-38 halftime lead.

Cash scored 15 points and Boyd and Tanisha Wright (five assists) added 14 each for the Liberty, which had 13 steals. The Dream's Angel McCoughtry scored 27 points.

Protest before game. Before the game, 20 to 30 protesters spoke out against the hiring of Thomas, who was named in a 2006 sexual harassment suit filed by a former Knicks employee. The Liberty president, appearing at a pregame news conference, did not comment on the rally.

Friday afternoon, the Liberty released a statement responding to the Women's Sports Foundation's petition to the WNBA board of governors requesting that Thomas' part-ownership of the team be revoked. In the petition, the group said that in 2007, a jury found Thomas guilty of sexually harassing Anucha Browne Sanders, which led to an $11.5-million settlement.

"The Women's Sports Foundation has continued to rely on erroneous and exaggerated media reports," a Liberty statement read. "Anucha Browne Sanders voluntarily dismissed her complaint. Ms. Sanders accepted that MSG and Mr. Thomas did not admit guilt or concede wrongdoing."

When asked about the protesters, Thomas repeatedly said: "The statement speaks for itself."

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Liberty, Madison Square

Garden and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.