Record: 13-12 (3-1)
Place In Standings: Third
Points Per Game: 81.0 (76.0)
Points Against: 81.8 (67.2)
Three games at home were nice, comfortable, and to an extent easy for the Phoenix Mercury to have a fairy tale start to the new era under head coach Russ Pennell. They cruised to three straight wins behind tremendous defense and team play in front of their loyal fans.
Then they had to hit the road.
On the season the Mercury are 6-6 on the road. That is a trend that will have to change come playoff time if they can hold off the charging Seattle Storm (11-13) and even the San Antonio Silver Stars (9-15) who knocked off the Mercury this week, and, have enough time to catch them. As the season winds down to the final third or so the Mercury are going to have to earn the third slot in the playoffs. That third slot is paramount in terms of avoiding the Minnesota Lynx (0-5 against them on the season) in the first round.
Here is how the season wraps up for the Mercury, Storm, and Silver Stars in terms of head-to-head match-ups:
Mercury: Two games versus San Antonio (both home) and one game against Seattle (home)
Silver Stars: Two games verses Seattle (both home) and two games against Phoenix (both on the road)
Storm: Two games versus San Antonio (both on the road) and one game against Phoenix (road)
Seattle has the toughest path to retaining their seeding if they cannot win on the road (5-7) against their peers fighting for the playoffs. The Mercury have the lions share of their games at home to close out the season, but the final road games, especially those against potential playoff teams, are important to whether or not they can meet their potential.
With every game, every shot, and every made basket Diana Taurasi is going to make history. As of today she is 5th All-Time on the WNBA scoring list and has played between 70-194 less games total than her peers in the Six Thousand Point Club.
She is chasing Tina Thompson (7,324), Katie Smith (6,383), Lisa Leslie (6,263), Tamika Catchings (6,150), and Lauren Jackson (6,007).
To put things in perspective at the end of this season if Taurasi simply averages her season average she will be at 6,231 points. With one more healthy season of basketball at her career average (20.6 points per game) she will be at 6,931 points, firmly in second place all time at the 327 game mark. More points than Leslie, Sheryl Swoops, and the other legends mentioned before.
From a points scored perspective Taurasi is a few seasons away from being the G.O.A.T...
Despite picking up their first loss under Coach Pennell the Mercury are still playing well. The team has had an advantage on the glass (+31 rebounding advantage), protected the ball better (+1 turnover advantage), and most importantly have been winning with a +35 point advantage in four games. The team is playing better all-around basketball which is the most important change so far.
Yes, the points are down and the games are a little slower, but if this is winning basketball that is the most important thing. Brittney Griner is an offensive focus, Taurasi is doing it all as she usually does, and the chorus of athletic defenders are filling in their roles.
What Coach Pennell is doing is allowing the team to go out there and play offense, but also holding them accountable on the defensive end. Defense wins Championships is not just a tired old slogan. Over the past five years the Mercury are the only team to win a WNBA Championship with less that a Top 3 overall defense. Right now they are dead last, but under Coach Pennell in his four games they are the stingiest points per game defense in the league. Foreshadowing something here? Who knows, but it is a good, positive sign regardless.
Tuesday @ Tulsa Shock at 5 p.m. AZ Time
Friday vs. Seattle Storm at 7 p.m. AZ Time