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Liberty visit the desert to take on the Mercury with Sabrina Ionescu out

It’s a double-header. After Nets play Bucks in Game 4 on ABC, switch over to YES for Liberty vs. Mercury

Chicago Sky v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

We’ve officially hit a cold streak. The New York Liberty took on the league leading Connecticut Sun on Saturday night hoping to snap their two game losing streak. They weren’t able to get it done and suffered a 21 point loss. It was the team’s third straight loss.

The opponent tonight will be the Phoenix Mercury. The Mercury are hoping to go on a deep playoff run and they’re going to need good health and some luck on their side. They lost on Friday night at home to the Dallas Wings.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. Tip off after 6 p.m.

Injuries

Natasha Howard and Jocelyn Willoughby remain out and Sabrina Ionescu is a late scratch with left ankle tendinitis. Ionescu suffered a severe sprain to the same ankle in the “wubble” and Coach Walt Hopkins had noted that Ionescu hadn’t been moving well in recent games.

Bria Hartley and Diana Taurasi are out indefinitely with injuries.

The game

In a fun bit of business, the Liberty and Brooklyn Nets will be playing doubleheaders the next few days. The Nets get the afternoon or evening spot and the Liberty the late night slot from the West Coast. Of course, the Nets are hoping they won’t have to do that by Tuesday as they are aiming to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in five games in their playoff series. Tis the season of basketball!

This might be the moment of the season so far, with our guy Ryan Ruocco on the call:

That great moment came from former Liberty wing Kia Nurse. Nurse was traded over the winter in the move that brought Sami Whitcomb and Natasha Howard to Brooklyn. Around the time of the trade, she spoke about the wubble experience and said:

“In the bubble season, I tried to go out there and compete every night, and make sure no matter what the outcome of the game was that we played our butt off every five seconds and that was important for me.”

Nurse’s role is a bit different these days and she’s shooting a career best 36.2 percent from three point range this year. She slots in nicely on a star laden team like Phoenix and the opportunity to play high pressure playoff games would do wonders for her growth and development.

Size figures to play a major role tonight. The Mercury feature one of the best interior players in basketball in Brittney Griner. On the year, Griner is second in the W in rebounds at close to 10 per game and tops in blocks with 2.5 a night. The majority of her attempts come by the rim and she’s a great finisher and post scorer. The duo of Kylee Shook and Kiah Stokes will handle interior work for Walt Hopkins' club.

If the Liberty want to win, they'll need to push the tempo. New York plays at the second fastest pace in the league this year while Phoenix plays at the second slowest. Phoenix can punish teams with Griner on the inside so NY will need to speed it up and hopefully either tire or get Griner in foul trouble.

The Liberty have been sloppy with the ball this year (second highest turnover rate) but the Mercury haven't forced many turnovers on their side (lowest opponent turnover rate). Managing possessions takes on all the importance in the world when you're at a talent disadvantage.

The streak was bound to end at some point. Betnijah Laney's 20 point streak ended on Saturday night as she was only able to score eight points in her 31 minutes of playing time. She had some bad luck as a few of her shots rimmed out, but the Sun defense was in her air space and making things tough on her all game long.

Player to watch: Skylar Diggins-Smith

Having a point guard and secondary option like her always pays off. Diggins-Smith is averaging 18 points and five assists a night and is attempting a career high seven free throw attempts a night. The Mercury lead the rim in shots attempted inside the restricted area, and a good bit of that is due to Diggins-Smith ability to break defenders down off the dribble. She hasn’t been finishing well when she gets there, but she’s been a good finisher in the past so look for that to bounce back.

Maybe the week off will do Sabrina Ionescu some good? Ionescu has been in a slump for a little while now as she's only shot 20 percent from the field during the team's current losing streak. She's only taken one free throw during this stretch as well and when you're cold from the field, easy money at the line can help you snap out of the funk. Coach Hopkins thinks it could be an injury issue plaguing his young star, and if that’s the case, the team will be sure to take it slow so she can heal. In the interim, a good showing on the West Coast portion of the road trip will do her and the team some good.

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