To start the 2010-2011 NBA season the Miami Heat came in with unparalleled expectations thanks to a roster that could not be rivaled by even the best video game trade artists. They deconstructed the roster to create a "Big Three" featuring All-NBA talent in their physical prime.
It was not pretty to start. The Heat began their run with a loss and stalled out of the gates with an unassuming 9-8 beginning to the new regime of hired guns. That debut included an offensive misfire as the Heat scored 80 points, a feat that would only be dubiously topped one more time that season. They had to get their bearings.
The team took a while to get used to playing with each other. After all, the "Big Three" were all used to being "Big Individuals" with their previous teams and the roster was not put together organically, rather overnight in a lab with a master chemist.
Now flash forward to the 2013 Phoenix Mercury and there is a team that can be put on that pedestal in terms of overall talent, but one that was put together more organically.
It took the Heat about 30 games to get their rhythm and feel for each other, which in WNBA terms translates to a full season meaning that the team has less time to figure it all out. However for the Mercury they did not have the luxury of a training camp or elongated pre-season before the season. It was meet and greet, exhibition against Japan, and then time for the bright lights.
They created a "super team" on the backs of Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner, Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree, and rookie phenom Brittney Griner.
Throughout Taurasi's career she has been the go-to player from college to the WNBA to the Olympics. Bonner became a star last year in Taurasi's absence. Griner was the alpha in college for four years winning a National Championship and playing in two Final Fours. They were stars individually and know have to meld together to make this a Championship team, because, on paper, they have the talent to beat any team on any given night.
Early on the team struggled, you guessed it, on the offensive end as they did not know how to get out of their own way playing too passively with each other.
Now, five games into a 34 game season, the Mercury are getting a feel for how to play with each other. After Friday nights 97-81 win over the Los Angeles Sparks the team has won two in a row, both games over playoff teams just a season ago.
We changed what we were doing the first three games and I took the blame for that. I was trying to do something we weren't familiar with and it is hard trying to put everything on one person (Griner) rather than what we had and just do. -- Head Coach Corey Gaines
Couple that with the recent 82-67 win over the WNBA Champion Indiana Fever and the Mercury are trending in the right direction.
The game swayed in the third quarter with the three-point shot. Taurasi hit three after three finishing the game with five long balls on her own as the team nailed nine total -- seven in the second half. This season as Coach Gaines alluded to was the Mercury trying to do something they were not used to as a team. He wants the team to get back to the quick hitting style that keeps opponents on their heels while opening up more opportunities for the offense to score.
That quick hitting style was inefficient in the first half as the team shot 43.6% (17-39) from the field and 15.4% (2-13) from three. The second half was a different story as they shot 57.5% (19-33) from the field and 58.3% (7-12) from three.
Taurasi is not going to have 34 points 7 rebounds and 6 assists every game. That is reality. But if she can have these occasional flashbacks of brilliance with the added punch of Bonner's 23 points 12 rebounds and Griner's 10 points 6 rebounds and four blocks this team is not going to lose many games going forward.
It has not been an easy start to the season though as the Mercury are still waiting for Taylor to get back on the floor while dealing with other nagging injuries and even a suspension. Griner is on a minute limit after getting hurt early in the season while Samantha Prahalis has not been playing well early on. Dupree had to serve a one game suspension and through all that they have come together as a team to get back on track.
Building momentum and great team cohesion takes time and patience. That is what the Mercury are doing in this slow burn to greatness.
There is always a spot in the game where you get into a groove and it is like '15 points just like that.' It is real quick, but you have to be ballsy enough to do it. You can't be scared. You have to take the chance. What is the worst thing that could happen? You'll miss. What is the best thing that can happen? You can make a big run... -- Coach Gaines on shooting with confidence
It took the Heat about 30 games to get it and once they did they were able to book back-to-back-to-back NBA Finals appearances including this year as they try to win a second straight. Is that the direction the Mercury are heading towards with this slow burn to greatness and a new WNBA "super team" for the future?