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Mercury-Liberty Preview

Jul 26, 2009 - 12:31 AM By BRETT HUSTON STATS Writer

Phoenix (12-5) at New York (6-9), 4:00 p.m. EDT

The Phoenix Mercury had an impressive first half of the season, but a five-game road trip that kicks off less than 24 hours after the All-Star game should provide an excellent test for the Western Conference's top team.

Fortunately for Phoenix, the trip will begin with a big boost.

Diana Taurasi will return to the Mercury on Sunday afternoon after serving her two-game suspension following a drunk-driving arrest as Phoenix looks for only its second win in 13 games at Madison Square Garden against the New York Liberty.

Taurasi is tied with teammate Cappie Pondexter (20.7 points per game) for the league's scoring lead, and the high-scoring Mercury (12-5) have raced to a one-game lead over Seattle in the West.

The season's first half also came with one big distraction for Phoenix, however. Taurasi was suspended for two games by the Mercury following a drunk-driving citation July 2, and she faces three charges in the case that will be heard Aug. 21.

Phoenix won its first game without Taurasi, getting 26 points from Pondexter in beating Detroit 97-90 on July 18. She was missed Wednesday against visiting Minnesota, though, as the Mercury fell 99-86.

"I was thinking 1-1 (without Taurasi) was good so I'll take that," coach Corey Gaines said.

Taurasi first returned to the court Saturday in the WNBA's 10th All-Star game. She scored 18 in 21 minutes off the bench as the West beat the East 130-118 in Uncasville, Conn. - less than an hour from Storrs, where she starred at the University of Connecticut.

"It's been hard. It hasn't been an easy month," Taurasi said. "I'm embarrassed. It's a bad situation, but I'm going to use it to make me a better person, a better basketball player. ... I'm ready to move forward."

Taurasi and Pondexter combined for 47 points in a 91-84 win over the Liberty (6-9) in Phoenix on June 10, but beating New York at MSG has been a different story. The Mercury have won once in 12 trips to Manhattan, most recently losing 105-72 there June 22, 2008.

New York is just 4-4 at home, though, and is coming off its worst performance there in 2009. The Liberty won 77-70 at Chicago on Wednesday but came home Thursday and lost 88-73 to Sacramento - the league's worst team.

"We didn't defend as well as we needed to," coach Pat Coyle said after the Monarchs shot 59.3 percent. "We missed some early shots. When you make shots, it puts pressure on the defense. When you miss them, it doesn't."

New York could use some more offense from leading scorer Shameka Christon, who averages 18.1 points per game but has scored just 12.5 in her last two.

The Liberty's lone All-Star had 12 points off the bench Saturday, and they'll be happy to have her in the starting lineup Sunday after she missed the trip to Phoenix last month with a sprained right ankle.

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