Upon hearing the uplifting news that Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn, two of his top seven players, had completed their commitment to playing in the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket tournament, Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer could hardly contain his excitement.
“That’s the hard part of my job,’’ Laimbeer said. “You know when you have players right now, which we do, that are all being somewhat successful to a degree, you have to find playing time for everybody and it’s hard.
“I’ve got to move around like in the Matrix and figure it out.’’
Laimbeer will have to channel his inner Keanu Reeves as the Liberty begin one of the most grueling parts of their schedule tonight (7 p.m.; ESPN3) when they begin a 12-day, four-game road trip in Washington against the Mystics.
It is the team’s longest road swing since 2013.
The Liberty (7-5) won 5-of-6 without Piph and Vaughn. Several players got more minutes and made the most of their opportunities.
Lindsay Allen, the rookie point guard who was the last player waived, subsequently resigned, and won a roster spot with her non-rookie-like play.
Amanda Zahui B. had some strong performances in Vaughn’s absence. Bria Hartley did a solid job at point guard, stepping in with Piph in Europe and Brittany Boyd lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
More to note, Shavonte Zellous averaged 19.7 points over the last seven games, up from 4.4 in the first five.
Now Laimbeer must handle doling out minutes with more players, proven players, at his disposal. After Washington, New York will take on Atlanta, Seattle and Phoenix on its trip before returning to The Garden on July 14 against the Chicago Sky.
“We talk about it as a team and we’ve talked about it as we go through the process of becoming better,’’ Laimbeer said. “Lindsay Allen is a great example. We told her when we resigned her this is going to be a weird deal. We basically pulled her off the street, threw her in the game and she responded.
“Now it’s probably going to be weird again because she may not play in some games. She’s a rookie, so she gets it, but I expect the veterans on this team who will understand this is what we have, and we’re going to have to make it work if we want to accomplish our goals.’’
No player has embraced that more than Piph. She came off the bench in last Friday’s 94-89 loss to the Connecticut Sun in which the Liberty almost pulled off the greatest comeback win in franchise history, rallying from 21 points down to tie the game with 1:06 left before defeat.
Piph, who played 20.4 minutes against the Sun, down from her season average of 27, will start against Washington (9-5), which is led by Player of the Year candidate Elena Della Donne. Piph is more comfortable in the starter’s role, but said she’s been working on her mindset should Laimbeer need her to come off the bench.
“This is the first time in my career that I’ve come off the bench so I’m just trying to mentally come in and try to be a spark off the bench,’’ said Prince. “But it’s all about doing what each of us need to do to help this team win.’’
The Liberty will be without guard Sugar Rodgers, who suffered a back injury in the Connecticut loss. She will make the trip and is being evaluated.
When Rodgers is healthy, players such as Zellous and Hartley, might have fewer minutes and shots. These kinds of adjustments can affect a team in a negative way but Zellous, the senior member of the squad in her ninth season, doesn’t see that happening.
“It won’t be an issue,’’ Zellous said. “It’s just about timing. We have mature vets that understand it’s not just one person that’s going to help us win, it’s everyone.’’