The New York Liberty play most of their remaining games against teams with losing records, seemingly improving their chances of returning to the postseason.
The Phoenix Mercury, though, are a much tougher opponent with Diana Taurasi on the court.
New York looks to pull ahead in the Eastern Conference playoff race when it hosts the Mercury on Wednesday night.
The Liberty (10-16) ended a three-game losing streak by beating Washington 79-73 on Saturday, led by Essence Carson’s 20 points and 16 from Cappie Pondexter.
New York is tied with Chicago for the conference’s fourth and final postseason berth, and it’s looking to take a half-game lead before hosting the Sky on Friday.
“Every game is crucial at this point,” said Carson, who is normally the first player off the Liberty bench but received an unexpected start Saturday. “We have to think that we need every game. We had to win a game like this, especially with the situation we’re in.”
Coach John Whisenant’s team has several more games against weaker opponents, playing six of its final eight regular-season contests against sub-.500 foes. The Liberty already beat Phoenix (6-19) on the road, 89-77 on Aug. 23.
Pondexter had 31 points in that game, but the former Phoenix guard has been struggling with sore Achilles on both feet.
“We still have to win the games we have left,” Whisenant said Saturday. “Nothing is an easy win. It was good that we got a win when we didn’t have to count on Cappie.”
The Mercury may present a bigger challenge this time around, having won back-to-back games following a 10-game losing streak.
Taurasi, in her third game back after having her wisdom teeth out, had 25 points and DeWanna Bonner added 22 in Saturday’s 94-90 win over San Antonio.
“I’m just happy they are having fun,” coach Corey Gaines told the team’s official website. “You can see the smiles on their faces. It’s just a different type of flow.”
Taurasi, who helped lead the United States to the gold medal in London, has played in only five games for Phoenix this season, with the Mercury going 3-2 in those contests.
“I think (Saturday) shows some flashes of when we get healthy, we get everyone back, we have a pretty good future ahead,” Taurasi said.
Phoenix still harbors slim playoff hopes, sitting five games behind fourth-place Seattle in the West with nine contests to play, but it will need a good showing on a tough road trip to stay alive. After facing the Liberty, the Mercury visit East powers Connecticut and Indiana.