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Liberty begin two game series with the Mercury

The Olympic Games-Tokyo 2020 Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

A tough day all around. Thanks to Hurricane Henri, the New York Liberty had to play Sunday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Sparks without any fans or media present. Making matters worse was that the team lost a close one to the Sparks by three and are barely hanging on to their playoff position.

The opponent tonight will be the Phoenix Mercury. Things were looking bad for them, but they’ve saved their season and are on a path to obtaining a bye in the playoffs. They helped their cause some more by beating the Atlanta Dream on Saturday night. They’ve won four straight games and six out of the last seven overall.

Where to follow the game

YES Network for the locals and NBA TV for the out of towners. Tip after 7 PM.

Injuries

Sami Whitcomb had to leave Sunday’s game due to injury, and we later learned she was diagnosed with a sprained ankle. She will be out at least 10-14 days. Jazmine Jones and Jocelyn Willoughby are out.

Bria Hartley is out.

The game

NY won the first meeting in June.

It’s never good to be shorthanded. The Libs only have nine players available tonight, so everyone’s going to have to do some heavy lifting over the next few weeks as they hope reinforcements make it back to secure their playoff spot.

We had one homecoming on Sunday as Amanda Zahui B came back to Brooklyn as a member of the Sparks, and we’ve got another return tonight! From 2018-2020, Kia Nurse was on the Liberty and was named to the All Star team in 2019. Nurse should get a nice hand from the Barclays Center crowd.

It’s a shame that Jazmine Jones will be out for this game because after the last Mercury vs Liberty game, it got spicy on the bird. She got into it with Skylar Diggins-Smith and soon after, everybody joined in on the fun. Diggins-Smith went to Tokyo and won gold and has been having an excellent year second year with Phoenix. Diggins-Smith does a good job of breaking defenders down off the dribble and finishes well amidst the trees at the rim. She’s getting to the free throw line at the highest rate of her career, which has been key for a resurgent Mercury offense.

Without Whitcomb, Sabrina Ionescu will take on more ballhandling responsibilities. She had a game high six turnovers on Sunday afternoon and like everyone else with the Liberty, will have to be more careful with the ball. She can score

Natasha Howard will face her toughest challenge since coming back from her injury. Tonight, she’ll be facing off against Brittney Griner. In the first game, Griner worked the Liberty to the tune of 29 points and 14 rebounds in 33 minutes of playing time. She made two deep jumpers, but otherwise did her damage at the rim. She did commit a season high six turnovers so the Liberty are hoping they can bait her into some mistakes.

We keep talking about the Liberty’s turnover woes, and 22 on Sunday made their lives a lot more difficult than it needed to be. Fortunately for them, Phoenix is last in the W this year in forcing turnovers so they’re hoping they can make the most out of their possessions. New York plays a lot faster than Phoenix so if they can get on the run and take care of the ball, they’ll open things up on offense.

As Betnijah Laney goes, so go the Liberty. Laney went 2-12 from the field on Sunday and missed a lot of makeable layups for her. She’s only shot better than 40 percent from the field once in her last six games and as the team’s top scoring option, they need her to find her shot fast.

Player to watch: Diana Taurasi

She doesn’t carry the load like she did at her peak, but Diana Taurasi is still a player you want on your squad. She got her fifth gold medal in Tokyo with Team USA and is third on the team in scoring at almost 16 points a game. Mercury coach Sandy Brondello spoke about how the greatness of DT with Alex Simon of The Next Hoops:

“That’s what Diana does. I don’t think there’s any better closer than what she is. She controls the tempo, she makes a lot of good decisions, she makes big shots. She knows where she can be aggressive and she’s great at getting to the paint. I think she had a real good mixture of getting inside, not just shooting threes. And no one shoots free throws better than she does.”

She’s down for 26 to 28 minutes a night so she’ll make the most out of her time on the court.

With Whitcomb out, best bet is Rebecca Allen will enter the starting five. Allen was excellent off the bench as she knocked down five three pointers in 25 minutes. Allen provides Walt Hopkins with some more size and defense on the perimeter, which will be essential going forward. With only nine players eligible, look for her to play 30+ minutes tonight.

From the Vault

Hurricane Henri delayed it for a few days, but tonight, Crystal Robinson will be inducted into the Liberty Ring of Honor. She was a member of some of the great Liberty teams, so let’s take a trip back to 1999

Also, happy birthday, Kobe!

More reading: Swish Appeal