Mercury-Liberty Preview

The Associated Press

The New York Liberty stand on the cusp of elimination. A loss to the Phoenix Mercury at home Tuesday night would make it official.

The Liberty could also be eliminated regardless of what they do against the Mercury, and they'll be hoping to still be in the hunt at the end the night when they meet Phoenix for the second and final time this season.

Trailing fourth-place Washington by three games, the Liberty (11-20) need the Mystics to lose their next two while New York beats Phoenix and Indiana on Friday. That would set up a decisive showdown between the teams in their season finale Sunday.

"Mathematically we're still in it, but at the same time our straws are running rather thin right now," coach Bill Laimbeer said.

Laimbeer's club isn't playing well at all as it attempts to make that unlikely scenario a reality, losing a season-high four straight by 64.8 points per game.

They've lost five in a row at the Prudential Center, where they'll likely play their last game Tuesday before moving back to Madison Square Garden in 2014.

The latest of those came against Atlanta on Friday, 70-57. New York, which has made the playoffs the last three seasons, trailed by seven at the break but surrendered 12 straight points to begin the second half.

"It's always the third quarter," forward Kara Braxton said. "Every time we come out, we come out a little slow. So we're still trying to work on that with the last three games and hopefully we'll correct it and make a playoff push."

The Mercury (17-13) outscored the Liberty by 10 in the third en route to a 94-87 victory July 2.

Phoenix has no such concerns, having clinched a spot in the postseason and going 7-2 under interim coach Russ Pennell - the best start by a coach in team history. The Mercury beat Atlanta 79-71 on Sunday behind Diana Taurasi's 25 points, nine rebounds and six assists for their third straight win.

"It's not necessarily the best team over the summer, but the team that gets hot at the right time," Taurasi said. "Today was a little step for us to go forward."

Second in the WNBA with 20.9 points per game, Taurasi has averaged 7.9 assists over her last eight, though that's not necessarily what Pennell is looking for.

"I think sometimes she gets in the mode where she's not looking for her shot, and so we've tried to encourage her," Pennell said. "We want her to be a little more aggressive offensively, and I think she did that (Sunday)."

How much the Liberty can expect from leading scorer Cappie Pondexter is uncertain. The guard sustained an apparent right knee injury Friday and though she returned, she finished with a season-worst two points on 1-of-8 shooting.

The Mercury are giving up 72.8 points per game under Pennell after allowing 84.7 under former coach Corey Gaines.

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