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Betnijah Laney returns as Liberty visit the Phoenix Mercury

Indiana Fever v New York Liberty Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

Making it happen. The New York Liberty are fighting to secure a playoff spot, and it’s not gonna be an easy path to the finish line. They fell behind by as much as 20 points on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Sparks, but they fought back and came away with a huge three point win. It was their third in a row and they look like they’re turning the corner at the right time.

The opponent tonight will be the Phoenix Mercury. It’s been a long, trying season for the team as they try to make it through. They were on the road Thursday evening and lost to the Connecticut Sun. Their minds probably weren’t on the game that night, and we’ll get into that in a bit.

Where to follow the game

YES Network has us covered. Late night affair so we’re getting started after 10 p.m.


For the first time in a long time, there are no injuries to report for the Liberty.

Diana Taurasi did not play on Thursday as she sat out due to a quad injury. She is listed as questionable for this contest. No Kia Nurse tonight.

Free BG

Phoenix Mercury v Connecticut Sun Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

On Thursday morning, Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9.5 years in prison by a Russian court after her trial concluded. This was expected, but doesn’t take away from the devastation and sadness everyone has felt about her ordeal. On Friday, CNN reported that Russia is now ready to discuss a prisoner swap with the United States government. We can only hope BG is brought home safely soon.

With that news hanging over them, the Mercury had a job to do on Thursday. Skylar Diggins-Smith’s words in the postgame accurately sum up how everyone on the team was feeling:

It's been a difficult year for the Mercury and WNBA as their teammate, friend, and sister is locked up on BS charges. Free BG.

The game

Phoenix took game one while New York took game two. This game determines who wins the season series and thus has the tiebreaker in the standings.

The Mercury are a small team, and as the only big on the roster, a lot is riding on Brianna Turner’s shoulders. She has to protect the rim, control the boards, and do her usual work on defense. In the Mercury’s last three losses, they’ve been outrebounded by double digits in each one. For the Liberty, they have to make sure they dominate the glass in this one. They won the rebound matchup last time they were in Phoenix, but tricked it off with 15 turnovers. They’ve got to make sure they take advantage and make the most out of every possession.

Stefanie Dolson and Han Xu will look to dominate on the interior. In the first game, Dolson went 7-9 from the field, and all seven of her makes were directly at the rim. She’s a good low post scorer and if the team taps into that tonight, they can make things even more daunting for the Mercury. Han has figured things out after a cold stretch, and now with the finish line so close, will need to stay locked in.

The Liberty have managed to make things difficult on Skylar Diggins-Smith this year. In two games against New York, SDS is only shooting 20 percent from the field. It's been a total team effort as Crystal Dangerfield, Rebecca Allen, and a series of defenders have made life tough on the Phoenix star. Diggins-Smith is also one technical foul away from an automatic one game suspension, so she's gonna have to leave the referees alone tonight.

Sophie Cunningham has blossomed in the wake of Tina Charles' departure. Mercury coach, Vanessa Nygard, spoke about her growth with Hayden Cilley of The Next:

“I think what she’s got going on now is some confidence. And so she gets a little bit of space, she’s ready to shoot, and her teammates know she can make it. So they’re finding her. It’s a nice assist to find Sophie open on the perimeter. I think she’s just playing with a ton of confidence. Once a player starts to really understand what they can do, it’s great and Sophie is doing that.

Cunningham burned the Liberty in game one, but was held in check in the rematch. Natasha Howard will look to keep Cunningham off balance tonight. Howard’s double double streak ended on Wednesday, but no matter as she helped power the team to victory.

If it’s close late, the ball is heading to Sabrina Ionescu. She’s shown that she can make winning plays and has the confidence to stick with it even when she’s cold from the field. Sandy Brondello has compared Sab to Diana Taurasi, and like DT, Ionescu isn’t scared of big moments. It’s what you need in a franchise player and as a teammate, playing with someone who’s fearless is a huge plus.

Player to watch: Betnijah Laney

It’s been a long time, but the Queen Bee is back! Betnijah Laney has been out after undergoing knee surgery at the beginning of June. The Liberty have missed their on court leader since then, but Laney has been with the team every day as she provided support and help from the bench. Now that she is back, the Liberty are at full strength for the first time in a long time.

Laney gives the team another player that can score in the low post and finish well at the basket. With this being her first game back in months and the roster a lot different from when she last played, I would be surprised if she played a lot of minutes tonight. However long she plays, she’s guaranteed to give this Liberty club the shot in the arm they need for the stretch run.

Diamond Deshields recently returned from her own injury. She had been out since July 14 with a hip injury and returned on Thursday against the Sun. DeShields can attack the basket and finish at the rim, so the plan will be to force her into jumpers. On the season, DeShields has only made 31.1 percent of her jump shots, and that’s a part of her game that will need to improve. If Taurasi is out or limited in some way, more pressure will be on DeShields’ shoulders to lessen the workload on Diggins-Smith.

From the Vault

Sandy and DT with the title on the line? I like those odds

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