Diana Taurasi cleared to return as Mercury approach playoffs, but suspension awaits

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 31:  Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury during game three of the WNBA Western Conference Finals against the Seattle Storm at Talking Stick Resort Arena on August 31, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Mercury defeated the Storm 86-66. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Diana Taurasi was medically cleared Monday and will return this weekend after a suspension stemming from the near-brawl between the Mercury and Wings. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi was medically cleared to play Monday after missing all but one game of the season, Jeff Metcalfe of the Arizona Republic reported.

Taurasi, 37, is coming off back surgery and a hamstring injury. First, she’ll need to serve the one-game suspension issued after the near-brawl between the Mercury and Dallas Wings.

Taurasi returns from hamstring injury

Taurasi, the league’s all-time leading scorer, had back surgery April 24 for a disc protrusion and was expected to miss up to 12 weeks with a targeted return of mid-July. It’s her 16th season in the league and she’s spent most of those offseasons with her team in Russia.

She was cleared at the beginning of the month, but waited a week to heal a hamstring issue suffered during rehab. After playing 15 minutes against the Connecticut Sun on July 12, she went back to the bench with a lingering hamstring issue. She told the Arizona Republic last week she may have rushed her return given the strain.

Taurasi will serve brawl suspension vs. Aces

The veteran was one of the players suspended in the wake of the near-brawl Aug. 10 centered around teammate Brittney Griner and the Wings’ Kristine Anigwe.

Taurasi was given a one-game suspension and $500 fine for coming off the bench and “directly engaging” with the other team. She left her spot to “make sure my teammate didn’t get jumped,” she said, and would do it again.

The WNBA instituted the suspension for the first game after she’s medically cleared. That’s Tuesday when the Mercury (13-13) visit the Las Vegas Aces (18-9), who clinched a playoff berth this weekend with the return of A’ja Wilson.

Taurasi will likely make her second appearance of the season Sunday against the Chicago Sky.

Mercury approach playoffs clinging to spot

The team is seeking a better playoff spot with eight games left on the schedule. The regular season concludes Sept. 8.

The top eight teams make the playoffs with the bottom four playing in the first round. If the season ended today, the Mercury would clinch the seventh seed and go up against the sixth-seeded Seattle Storm, who have had their own injury-riddled year. But the team only has a half-game lead on the eighth seed.

Minus Taurasi or Griner, the league’s season scoring leader who was given a three-game suspension for the altercation, the Mercury won two of three to move up in the standings. DeWanna Bonner had her team-record 40th career double-double in the stretch, the third of the all-star trio that led the Mercury to the Finals last year. Phoenix lost to the Storm and is still after its league record-tying fourth WNBA title.

The Minnesota Lynx (13-14) hold the No. 8 seed with a 3.5-game lead on the Indiana Fever (9-17). The last time the Lynx missed the playoffs or had a losing record was in 2010, before the start of their dynasty that’s seen them win four WNBA titles in six Finals trips this decade.

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