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Previews: Tina Charles returns to New York as Mystics meet Liberty

Tina Charles’ return to her hometown highlights a three-game Saturday in the WNBA. Charles’ Washington Mystics (7-9) visit the New York Liberty (8-9) at 1 p.m. ET. Also at 1 p.m. ET, the Connecticut Sun (12-5) will look to take care of the Indiana Fever (1-16) for the second-straight game. The Phoenix Mercury (7-8) and Minnesota Lynx (8-7) also meet in a late-night rematch.

New York Liberty v Washington Mystics
In the first matchup between the Mystics and Liberty, Tina Charles (with ball) scored a season-high 34 points.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Tina Charles has done it all this season.

In her 11th WNBA season, the newly-minted Eastern Conference Player of the Month is putting up historic offensive numbers, carrying the Washington Mystics as they have navigated an injury-plagued season.

However, she has yet to return to New York. That happens Saturday afternoon, when the Mystics meet the Liberty at 1 p.m. ET at Barclays Center.

Before joining the Mystics during 2020 free agency, Charles spent five seasons with the Liberty. While she achieved much individual success during her with her stint with her hometown team, the hoped-for team success eluded Charles and the Liberty. Based on they way that she bullied the Liberty earlier this season, Charles was determined to send a message to her former employer.

Can we expect more of the same on Saturday?

A favorable matchup, as well as any extra motivation, should situate Charles to unleash another big game against the Liberty. New York remains the league’s worst interior defense, allowing 38.6 points in the paint per game. Although Charles has expanded her offensive game, she can still go to work in the space she owned for the Liberty for five seasons. Her 6.8 field goal attempts per game within five feet of the basket are the fourth-most in the WNBA. She converts these attempts at an above-average 67.6 percent.

Charles showed off the full complement of her offensive repertoire in her late-May evisceration of the Liberty, hitting four 3-pointers to go with her 16 points in the paint. She also got to the line for six free throws.

If Charles goes off, things are not lost for the Liberty. The Mystics also are not stout defensively, with a defensive rating of 104.5. Poor 3-point shooting luck partly explains Washington’s defensive troubles. Even though the Mystics allow only 21.2 trey attempts per game, opponents are shooting 40.7 percent from behind the arc. The Liberty, led by Sami Whitcomb, have the potential to catch fire from deep. Whitcomb is shooting 45.5 percent from long range and is tied for the league lead with 46 made 3-pointers. Per game, she fires off 5.9 trey attempts. Last weekend, the Atlanta Dream certainly felt the full force of her 3-point stroke, as she buried seven 3-pointers.

In short, expect a barn burner in Barclays on Saturday afternoon.

The other Saturday afternoon action does not inspire as much intrigue. Despite a somewhat sloppy game, the Connecticut Sun (12-5) took care of business against the Indiana Fever (1-16) on Thursday night, powered by new All-Star Brionna Jones’s career-high 34 points. The superior Sun should again romp in the rematch.

Saturday night brings another rematch, with the Phoenix Mercury (7-8) hosting the Minnesota Lynx (8-7) for the second time in four days. In their win on Wednesday, the Lynx benefitted from better shooting, hitting 50.7 percent of their shots from the field and 46.2 percent of their 3-point attempts. With the exception of Brittney Griner, the Mercury struggled to put the ball in the basket. If the shooting luck does not shift, Phoenix must find a way to generate offense beyond Griner.

Game information

Indiana Fever (1-16) vs. Connecticut Sun (12-5)

When: Saturday, July 3 at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, IN

How to watch: NBA TV, NESN, or SN

Key to the matchup: This past week, in advance of the June 30 deadline for contract guarantees, the Fever released Lauren Cox, the No. 3 pick in the 2020 draft. For observers, the move seemed to symbolize Indiana’s developmental dysfunction. The Fever filled Cox’s roster spot with Chelsey Perry, who started the season on the Indy roster after she was selected with the No. 26 selection in this year’s draft. In her first WNBA action since opening weekend, Perry played almost nine minutes and scored four points on five shots. Considering general manager Tamika Catchings and the Fever brass prioritized Perry over Cox, it will be interesting to see if she claims a permanent spot in the rotation.

Fever injury report: Jessica Breland (questionable; knee)

Sun injury report: Alyssa Thomas (out for season; Achilles)

Highlight: Chelsey Perry shows off her turnaround jumper

New York Liberty (8-9) vs. Washington Mystics (7-9)

When: Saturday, July 3 at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Key to the matchup: As discussed above, Sami Whitcomb has been a valuable addition for the Liberty. In contrast, the former West Coast sharpshooter that the Mystics imported — Sydney Wiese — has yet to find her niche with her new team. Wiese was an elite shooter and important floor spacer for the Los Angeles Sparks last season, finishing 2020 with an effective field goal percentage of 64 percent. This season, her effective field goal percentage has plummeted to 44.6 percent. Wiese is converting less than 30 percent of her almost four 3-pointers per game. Like nearly all members of the Mystics, Wiese has encountered injury troubles, suffering a sprained ankle that could still be contributing to her shooting struggles. For all Tina Charles’ brilliance, the Mystics are at their best when the whole team is bombing from deep. Wiese rediscovering her stroke would help the Mystics more frequently approach their offensive peak.

Liberty injury report: Rebecca Allen (out; foot), Natasha Howard (out; knee); Jocelyn Willoughby (out for season; Achilles)

Mystics injury report: Natasha Cloud (questionable; ankle), Myisha Hines-Allen (out; knee), Erica McCall (out indefinitely; knee), Elena Delle Donne (out; back)

Highlight: Sydney Wiese drains the corner 3-pointer

Phoenix Mercury (7-8) vs. Minnesota Lynx (8-7)

When: Saturday, July 3 at 10 p.m. ET

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, AZ

How to watch: Facebook

Key to the matchup: In her first game back from a sternum injury, Diana Taurasi was in GOAT form, dropping a season-high 25 points. She followed that up with her worst scoring game of the season, totaling only 10 points on 14 shots. At her advanced basketball age, it is not surprising that Taurasi is not as consistent on a game-to-game basis as the prime version of herself. However, despite her severe shooting struggles, there were some positives in Taurasi’s Wednesday performance. She had a season-high seven assists and got to the line for seven free throws. An often-uneven Phoenix offense needs Taurasi to maximize her playmaking and aggression when her shot is not falling.

Mercury injury report: Bria Hartley (out indefinitely; knee)

Lynx injury report: Aerial Powers (out indefinitely; thumb), Natalie Achonwa (out indefinitely; knee), Rennia Davis (out for season; foot)

Highlight: Diana Taurasi rifles a pinpoint pass to Brianna Turner