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Liberty-Mercury Preview

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Though Penny Taylor and the Phoenix Mercury were able to overcome the absence of Diana Taurasi in their last game, they surely hope she won't be sitting out again.

The WNBA's leading scorer hopes to return when the Mercury host the New York Liberty on Tuesday night, trying to move closer to clinching a playoff berth.

In her eighth WNBA season, Taurasi is having another stellar year for Phoenix (15-10). She's leading the league with 21.0 points per game and has averaged 24.2 in the last five.

However, she was a late scratch before an 87-81 win over San Antonio on Saturday due to back spasms. Taurasi, who hadn't missed a game this season, was held out of practice Monday but thought she'd be ready to go Tuesday.

"I'm feeling better," she said. "Last couple of days I was hurting. ... I'll probably play (Tuesday). Definitely."

However, if she isn't ready, the Mercury will be looking for Taylor to step up again. She scored 16 of her 28 points in the fourth quarter Saturday.

"That's Penny," coach Corey Gaines said. "I told her that I knew she was going to come through."

Taylor is averaging 23.0 points over the last four games, well above her season average of 16.8, and already had a big game against the Liberty this season. She scored 29 in the Mercury's 91-84 win over New York on July 30, when Taurasi was held to 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

Phoenix has won four of five, with all of the victories coming at home. The Mercury are second in the Western Conference, 1 1/2 games ahead of third-place Seattle, and can clinch a playoff spot as early as this week. They enter Tuesday with a 4 1/2-game lead on fifth-place Los Angeles.

Unlike the Mercury, the Liberty (15-12) are in a much more precarious position in the playoff race. Although they are within four games of first-place Indiana and two behind Connecticut in the East, they are only 2 1/2 games ahead of fifth-place Chicago, and those teams begin a home-and-home series Sunday.

New York has lost four straight road games, although two were decided by one point. Four of its final seven games are on the road.

The Liberty fell 63-62 at Seattle on Saturday after failing to score for the final 2:22, blowing a five-point lead by giving up back-to-back 3-pointers. Essence Carson stole an inbounds pass with 3 seconds left but had the ball stripped, though coach John Whisenant said a foul should have been called.

"We have struggled at times offensively," Whisenant said, "but they make it that much tougher."

New York shot 38.7 percent and attempted only 10 free throws. The Liberty rank eighth among the league's 12 teams in scoring at 76.8 points per game and have been particularly bad in their last three road games, averaging 65.3.

Phoenix, on the other hand, is the league's highest-scoring team at 90.8 points per game, though it also gives up a league-worst 87.2.

The Liberty have lost their last two visits to Phoenix.

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