Kia Nurse remains day-to-day for Liberty

Who could soak up her minutes when New York takes on Dallas?

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New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse (5) drives to the basket during the WNBA game between the Connecticut Sun and the New York Liberty at Times Union Center, Albany, New York, USA on May 19, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Kia Nurse’s left ankle injury is being evaluated day-by-day. In media availability on Monday, Head Coach Walt Hopkins couldn’t officially rule her out for Wednesday’s matchup against the Wings, but also couldn’t definitively say that she’d suit up against Dallas.

Nurse confirmed the uncertainty that we already knew — her timetable to return is unclear. “Ankles recover when they want to recover, so we’ll see when this one does,” she told the media in after practice availability on Monday afternoon.

The third-year guard isn’t a stranger to ankle injuries as she suffered a “stress reaction” in her right ankle while a junior at UCONN. Last season, she dealt with a lingering elbow injury which she sustained last July before the 2019 All-Star Game.

On Monday, Nurse discussed how she plans to contribute and make an impact while on the sidelines. As a “baby vet” with three years of WNBA experience, she’s able to take on a slightly different role while she recovers.

“One of the big things is just continuing to talk, while I’m taking a little bit of time on the sidelines,” she said. “So giving as much insight as I can from what I've learned over the years being in the league, and really just helping out that way and providing some energy.”

Like Amanda Zahui B., Nurse noted how fearless she thought her team played without her presence on the floor. The New York All-Star was encouraged by the first-year players who were called upon to play following her exit.

While Nurse continues to recover, who steps up?

Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm drives to the basket against the New York Liberty on July 25, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images.

Megan Walker officially donned seafoam and black on Monday, joining the team for her first professional practice after going through four days of league-mandated quarantine after her arrivial in Bradenton.

After practice on Monday, Hopkins reiterated his initial read on Walker when he spoke about her arrival last Thursday. He noted that on the hardwood that she “didn’t look out of sorts,” but she does have to catch up.

“She didn't look lost,” Hopkins said on Walker. “She looked good. Her energy was good. You know, she just had her normal, working your way back on the court after the quarantine and everything like that. But no, she looked pretty sharp all things considered.

 But does Walker look sharp enough to take on Nurse’s minutes? For Hopkins, it was “hard to say.” He said that eventually, Walker will have significant minutes, but wasn’t sure about this week against Dallas on Wednesday or Atlanta on Friday.

“I'm not going to say for sure, one way or the other because who knows, maybe she gets out there and feels good and gets some adrenaline going and really moves around,” Hopkins told reporters on Monday. “But right now it looks like she just needs a little bit more time to get acclimated and you know, get into game shape. And I don't want to rush her out there too quickly if I can help it. So I do think you'll see her. I just don't know, but it'll be for long stretches.”

With Walker working her way back to full speed, expect Sabrina Ionescu to continue taking shots when the Liberty face the Wings on Wednesday night. During training camp, Hopkins and Ionescu discussed what she can do when the offense becomes stagnant. Although she missed all eight three-ball attempts against Seattle, he wants the rookie to be inclined “ to take shots” even if they don’t fall.

Another candidate to accumulate Nurse’s minutes at the two or three spot, Jazmine Jones, is still nursing a right ankle sprain of her own. While she was the official hype-woman on Saturday, she is yet to play in her first WNBA minutes. She remains day-to-day as well.

With Walker and Jones questionable, who’s left? Neah Odom “looked comfortable asserting herself”, according to Hopkins, during her 27 plus minutes on the floor against the Storm, adding that this type of performance from Odom didn’t shock him. What did surprise him was how quickly Odom was able to impact the game at both ends of the floor.

“She gave us really valuable minutes,” he said. “And her ability to play kind of across from one through five at some point the season. She could probably play at any one of those slots we needed her to, is invaluable for us,” he said.

But what about Neah herself? How did she feel out there?

“To be quite honest, I was actually really nervous, just the whole idea of actually playing my first WNBA game which is a big one for me,” she said on Monday. “So I'm glad it looks like to you guys that I wasn’t nervous and I was comfortable out there because on the inside I was freaking out.”

When she was asked about Hopkins’ remarks regarding her newfound confidence, and where it has come from, Odom credited it to the opportunity she had to go back home and talk her favorite player ever. According to Odom, it was 2X NBA champion Kevin Durant (now with Brooklyn as well), who helped instill confidence within her.

Well, what did he say? Odom chuckled before answering.

“Really just play your game,” she told reporters on Monday. “You know, I need to hear that. I think that you get so caught up in and like, moving on to the pros and just really focus on being you, don't change who you are. And so I think that that's one thing that I really just kept close to me.”

Odom might have felt jitters inside, but her body language and performance on the offensive glass communicated a very different story.