August 11, 2014

When the New York Liberty look back at the 2016 season, Tina Charles and company might owe the Indiana Fever a huge debt of gratitude.

In their last game on Thursday, the Liberty gave up 40 first-quarter points to Indiana, which tied a WNBA record. The Fever led by as many as 32 points on their way to a 98-77 shellacking of New York.

But the beat-down by the Fever (13-14) might be a wakeup call reminding New York that on any given night any team can beat another.

And even though the Liberty hold a comfortable 4 1/2-game lead in the East, coach Bill Laimbeer's squad has learned a valuable lesson, one that could carry them deep into the playoffs.

With a new-found sense of urgency, the Liberty get to test their resolve on Saturday, when they play host to the underachieving Phoenix Mercury (13-14) at 6 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.

The Mercury have won three straight since play resumed after the Olympic Games. Included in that streak was an impressive win over Los Angeles, which is tied for the best record in the league at 22-5.

Diana Tuarasi, who led Team USA to a gold medal (the fourth time she's stood on the winner's podium), paces the way for three-time defending champing Mercury with 18.9 points per game.

DeWanna Bonner (15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds per game) has proven to be trusty sidekick having scored in double figures in 11 of the last 13 games.

And patrolling the middle, Brittany Griner leads the league in blocked shots per game at 3.1, hauls down 6.1 rebounds and scores a little over 13 points per game.

With six Olympians on the squad, Phoenix is a formidable opponent no matter what the record is.

New York had won seven of nine until laying an egg in Indiana, and if they are to get back on the winning track the Liberty will have to play much better defense.

Offense is not an issue, with MVP candidate Charles prepared to carry the Liberty on her back. The perennial All-Star is second in the league in scoring at 21.1 per game, first in rebounding at 9.7 and adds 3.8 assists per game.

If Charles should have an off-game, Sugar Rogers (14.5 points) is more than capable of picking up the slack. The sharpshooting Rogers is closing in on the franchise record of 78 3-pointers in a season with 74.

The good news for the Liberty and bad news for the rest of the league is that Epihanny Prince, a second team All-WNBA selection last season, is rounding into form after missing 26 games because of a torn ACL.

Prince has played in only two games, but before her injury, she was the second option on offense behind Charles and averaged 15 points per game as well as 3.5 assists.

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