Phoenix Mercury enter must-win scenario for WNBA postseason hopes ahead of matchup with Dallas Wings

·3 min read
Aug 10, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz. U.S.;  Phoenix Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham (9) gets back on defense against the Minnesota Lynx during the fourth quarter at Footprint Center.
Aug 10, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz. U.S.; Phoenix Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham (9) gets back on defense against the Minnesota Lynx during the fourth quarter at Footprint Center.

Chaos was not averted following the Mercury’s 86-77 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Wednesday, but the playoffs are still not out of reach for Phoenix.

Despite the loss launching the Mercury (14-20) into a four-way tie with the Lynx, the Atlanta Dream and the New York Liberty for the last two playoff spots, the Mercury are not eliminated from contention.

However, the road to earning one of the two spots becomes more challenging with two playoff-bound teams coming to Footprint Center on Friday (Dallas Wings) and Sunday (Chicago Sky) to close out the regular season.

If there were to be a tiebreaker scenario with the teams, the only team the Mercury holds a tiebreaker over in the mix of four teams is the Liberty.

“I guess that’s part of our story this year. It’s a roller coaster and we’re just trying to do it the hard way,” Mercury wing Sophie Cunningham said after Wednesday’s game.

“We’re going to watch some film and see what we can jump up against a really good Dallas team. We have all the pieces we need here and when we put our best foot forward, I think good things could happen for us,” she added.

The Wings come in on Friday after clinching a playoff spot on Monday and still have most of its offense clicking. A blow dealt to the Wings’ depth came on Tuesday when the team announced that star player Arike Ogunbowale will miss the remainder of the regular season with an abdominal injury.

But even without Ogunbowale, the Wings have won three of their last six, including victories over the top two teams in the Sky and the Las Vegas Aces. Guard Marina Mabrey has stepped up tremendously in that stretch, averaging 19.5 points and 4.8 assists. Mabrey’s best game came on Monday with 31 points to clinch the playoff berth.

Wednesday wasn’t the best night for the Wings either after losing by 18 points to the Liberty. Mabrey led the team with 19 points, but ball movement wasn’t as prominent with the Wings only finishing with 12 assists compared to the Liberty’s 21.

Friday will be an important day for all the teams fighting for the playoff spots with the Liberty and Dream facing off against each other. The current seventh-seeded Lynx will face the fourth-seeded Seattle Storm in Minneapolis.

While the Mercury saw career performances from Shey Peddy, Diamond DeShields, Megan Gustafson and Cunningham on Wednesday, the team still played without Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Taurasi will not be available for the rest of the regular season, and Diggins-Smith will miss the next two games for personal reasons, the team announced on Thursday.

That was the same reason listed for her absence in Wednesday's game. Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said that Diggins-Smith's status wasn’t known until the day of the game.

"We’ve seen everything this year so whatever gets thrown at us, we’re ready to lace up and go. It’s such an honor and privilege to just play this game and we’re blessed to play every night in front of our fans,” Nygaard said. “Whoever we have available is going to come out and battle for our team. They’re going to give a hundred and ten percent and fight. We still have fight so we’re going to be ready to go. It’s what our fans deserve.”

Reach the reporter at jenna.ortiz@arizonarepublic.com or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix Mercury host Dallas in must-win game for WNBA playoff hopes