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WNBA: New York Liberty could benefit from Phoenix Mercury-Dallas Wings player suspensions

Huw Hopkins - @coach_huw

Wednesday 14 August 2019 10:21, UK

Brittney Griner sparks a multi-player brawl during the Phoenix Mercury's loss to the Dallas Wings
Image: Brittney Griner sparks a multi-player brawl during the Phoenix Mercury's loss to the Dallas Wings

The New York Liberty could be the beneficiaries of the player suspensions handed to the Phoenix Mercury and Dallas Wings following their on-court brawl, writes WNBA analyst Huw Hopkins.

When Brittney Griner and Kristine Anigwe exchanged swings at one another during the Dallas Wings-Phoenix Mercury match-up on Saturday night, there was little doubt that punishments beyond the immediate ejections would soon arrive.

Phoenix Mercury players challenge Arike Ogunbowale's shot 1:49
Highlights of the Dallas Wings' visit to the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA

On Tuesday, the WNBA made the decision that Griner would receive a three-game suspension for throwing punches, escalating the situation (after she chased the rookie down the court), and pushing Anigwe's head with an open palm.

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Anigwe will serve a two-game suspension for instigating the situation after yanking on Griner's arm and then pushing her in the head.

After that, the benches cleared and on-court players got involved, which resulted in Kayla Thornton receiving a two-game ban. Diana Taurasi and Kaela Davis were suspended for one game. A fine was also issued to DeWanna Bonner.

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The timing of this for these teams is not ideal. Both are more than two-thirds of the way through their seasons and in contention for a final spot in the playoffs. The suspended players listed are key to their respective teams.

What impact will these suspensions have on the WNBA playoff picture?

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Latest WNBA standings

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What next for Griner?

Before being handed her three-game suspension, Griner suggested the WNBA's decision could impact her future in the league.

"I'm not doing it for the money because we don't make enough and they want to fine me for every little thing," Griner told the Arizona Republic. "I'm getting techs for protecting myself in games and flagrants because they always only see me. They never see anything beforehand."

Brittney Griner in action for the Phoenix Mercury against the Dallas Wings prior to her ejection
Image: Griner in action for the Phoenix Mercury against the Dallas Wings prior to her ejection

The 6ft 9in Griner is the WNBA's scoring leader and a six-time All-Star but her earning potential is capped by the league's $115,000 maximum salary. According to the Arizona Republic, she makes a seven-figure salary with her Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA's offseason.

Griner has yet to comment following the suspension and until she does so, questions over her WNBA future will remain.

What next for the Mercury?

The team has been floating around .500 all season and on the edge of the playoffs.

Currently, at 11-12, Phoenix still have a three-game lead in the loss column over the New York Liberty, who are currently in a six-game tailspin coming out of the All-Star break.

The Indiana Fever are four losses behind the Mercury, and while their young core is showing signs of development, they might not have grown enough to chase down the more-experienced Phoenix team.

Brittney Griner questions a call during the Mercury's loss to Dallas
Image: Griner questions a call during the Mercury's loss to Dallas

However, without Griner for three games, a window has opened for the chasing pack that could make the stretch run of the regular season a close, tense affair. The games she will miss begin on August 14, when the Mercury are set to take on Connecticut.

The Sun are on a two-game losing streak of their own, with center Jonquel Jones struggling offensively, so an easier fight without the Mercury's intimidating defensive big will be a welcome sight when Connecticut visit Phoenix. In truth, it will have been a difficult game for the Mercury to win anyway, but this reduces the likelihood considerably.

Following this, Phoenix face Atlanta. The way the Dream have been playing this year, this game is winnable, even without the Mercury's top-tier talent available. Taurasi is working her way back from injury and little has been said about a return date after she tweaked her back in her first game back from a surgery that took place before the season started.

Diana Taurasi in action on her return from injury
Image: Diana Taurasi in action on her return from injury

Even if the team was planning to make her active this week - and an easy game like the Atlanta one would have been a good choice - Taurasi would not have been able to return due to her own suspension.

Both players will be out against the Liberty, which could be a key game towards the end of the season - if New York are able to claw their way back into the playoff race.

DeWanna Bonner will be active as she is facing no suspensions and if Phoenix feel like Taurasi could be healthy enough to contribute and not risk further injury, it could be worth making her active quickly so the Phoenix legend could return for the New York game and provide some scoring help to Bonner.

What next for the Wings?

Lost in all the hullabaloo created by Saturday's altercation was the fact that the Dallas Wings actually beat the Phoenix Mercury and brought themselves to within five games of the eighth spot in the playoff hunt.

Kristine Anigwe missing games at this stage of the season is no huge loss. The rookie has only just arrived in Dallas after being traded from Connecticut and has only logged one game with the Sun prior to the Mercury incident.

Kalya Thornton celebrates a basket against the Phoenix Mercury
Image: Kalya Thornton celebrates a basket against the Phoenix Mercury

However, Kayla Thornton's involvement is more problematic. The guard-forward has started the majority of Dallas' games this season and is averaging 10 points, five rebounds and two assists.

Kaela Davis' one-game suspension is slightly unusual. Due to injuries and players not being available, the Wings do not have enough bodies to play if she misses one of the games that Thornton is out. Therefore, she will suit up versus the surging Los Angeles Sparks, and will miss time this Sunday, when Dallas take on Connecticut, which you can watch live on Sky Sports Arena (8pm).

Live WNBA: Dallas @ Connecticut

The Wings are unlikely to beat the Sparks or the Sun, but Thornton will not be present for the game in-between when Dallas play against the New York Liberty.

Dallas' chances of making the playoffs are, at best, extremely distant, so losing these three games while different players are out shouldn't affect their season. However, they could still cause problems for another team's playoff hopes: notably, the Mercury.

The Liberty can be dangerous when they're clicking on all cylinders but have been struggling to do so recently - partly failing to incorporate Marine Johannes into the line-up, but also because of the concussion suffered by Amanda Zahui B.

Odyssey Sims teases a New York Liberty defender 1:46
Highlights of the Minnesota Lynx's visit to the New York Liberty in the WNBA

Zahui B should be back in action this week, and if New York are at full strength, they could reel off a list of wins.

Seven of the Liberty's final 10 games of the season are against teams that are out of the playoffs or in the last two spots. If they rack up wins, including one against Dallas and one against Phoenix in the next few days while each of those teams has a number of players suspended, it could change the way the playoff picture looks.

While that eighth spot in the playoffs has looked like it belonged to the Phoenix Mercury for most of the season, the New York Liberty might just knock them out before the post-season begins.

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