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New York Liberty (9-20) vs. Phoenix Mercury (77-52)
New York Liberty: OFF, Phoenix Mercury: OFF
Two struggling teams square off in Madison Square Garden tomorrow when the New York Liberty host the Phoenix Mercury. Each team has taken one game in the season series so far, and the winner tomorrow will have bragging rights until next season.
Mercury Struggling to Return to Form
The Mercury have been a perennial title contender over the last few years as Britney Grinder has matured and improved.When at their best, the triumvirate of Grinder, Diana Taurasi and Bonner matches up well with any other trio in the WNBA.
However, the team has had a precipitous drop in play over the last month, exacerbated by Taurasi’s struggle to get back on the court.
Phoenix has won just 3 of its last 10 games.
Taurasi made only her second appearance of the season in their last game against the Chicago Sky, and while she helped their pace and dynamism, she wasn’t effective defensively and shot only 2 for 13 from the field. For the season, she has now made 2 of her 17 attempts.
If Taurasi could return to her form of last year when she was an MVP candidate, this team has very high potential. The Mercury took eventual WNBA champion Seattle Storm to a five game series last year. By the end of the series, Vegas priced the Mercury and the Storm as if they were equal teams, with the Mercury only getting 3 points on the road in Seattle for the decisive 5th game. Now a year later, as the losses mount, the Mercury will struggle to qualify for the playoffs.
Tina Charles Has Taken A Step Back
The Liberty meanwhile have had another disappointing season, worsened by the recent drop off in play from their best player, Tina Charles. While Charles is still putting high counting stats (5th in the WNBA in scoring) her efficiency has fallen off a cliff. A respectable 45% career shooter, Charles has shooting just 38% from the field this season. The three ball that she has developed over the past years has completely abandoned her. She is making less than 20% of her threes and making less than 0.5 threes per game.
First time All Star, Kia Nurse has given the liberty a boost from the perimeter. The 23-year old Canadian stretches opposing defense by constantly bombing away from deep. Nurse makes almost 2 threes a game on solid 35% shooting. She doesn’t however provide much of an impact outside of her long range shooting, not rebounding or assisting at a high rate for her position.
The Liberty have lost 13 of their last 15 games, few of which have been competitive. One of their rare wins came against this Mercury team back in July.
Power Rating Each Team
WNBA spreads are notoriously under followed sports wagers – so there is not yet a widely available line for this game yet. However, the lack of attention to detail by bookmakers regarding this sport presents a tremendous opportunity. Look on FanDuel for lines tomorrow morning and act quickly if the lines are too far in either direction. WNBA lines move fast, as the bookie maker looks towards the bettor to make their decision much more so than in other sports.
I expect the Mercury to improve steadily as they work Diana Taurasi back into the fold. (Provided, she remains healthy enough to play.) A Nash-like offensive savant – with Kobe’s killer instinct – Taurasi will discover the best way to reincorporate into an offense that has been one dimensional so far this season. Grinner leads the WNBA in scoring, but can be bogged down with late double teams if there is not effective motion from shooters around her.
When and if we see them gel, I will look to upgrade the Mercury’s power rating quickly. Until then, I price the Mercury about a point better than an average team. Although they have a losing record on the season, they do have a winning record against the spread – which indicates some of their poor record can be attributed to bad luck in close games and a difficult schedule. With their talisman back in the fold, look for the Mercury to improve quickly.
There is a lot less of a case for optimism for the Liberty. Coach Katie Smith has seen little improvement during his two years in charge. The team might look to move on from the 30-year old Charles, and bring in younger assets over the off-season. Until then, the Liberty will likely do little more than tread water. I have the Liberty priced as the worst team in the WNBA, 6 points worse than an average team.
Given my projections, I think a fair line would be the Mercury favored by 4 on the road.
Bet on the Mercury tomorrow if the spread is Mercury -2 or lower.
Bet on the Liberty tomorrow if the spread is Liberty +6 or higher.
Pass on the game if the spread is between those two numbers.