Record: 17-13 (7-2)

Place In Standings: Third (+2.5 on Seattle)

Points Per Game: 80.8 (78.2)

Points Against: 81.1 (72.7)

******************************

The Phoenix Mercury have quietly gelled together and built themselves up as a legitimate team. For most of the season they were a cast of individuals trying to figure things out, but until the past 6-8 games they did not get it.

Now the Mercury are in the playoffs after knocking off the San Antonio Silver Stars and they have four more games to continue the momentum. After missing the playoffs last year due to a combination of injuries and poor circumstances they are back in the mix. This season's struggles have been well documented, but there is something to how the team has weathered the storm and continued to move forward.

It is more common for a team (or an individual) to fold up the tent and go home when things get tough. This season things have been tough.

After being home for the past 18 days playing a few victorious home games they hit the road for four of the final five games. It is another challenge and one where the team can take with a nonchalant attitude if they wanted to, but again, it is another challenge for a team that has taken them on head first all season. For a team dubbed as a "Super Team" or an "All-Star Team" at the start of the season the Mercury are starting to come around full circle to that initial adulation.

******************************

Finding A Dynamic Duo...

All season the Mercury have been looking for the right combination of Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. Or Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner. It has been a struggle from the beginning all the way till recently, with a few changes, and the team has been able to find a system that works for them, although it is not as simple as a dynamic duo.

Over the past three games the Mercury have found a rhythm with a quartet.

Taurasi is no doubt the star. She is the fifth leading scorer of all time and on a per game level is the second best scorer of all-time. Over the past three games she has scored 17.3 points per game and paced the offense with being the go-to scorer and the teams main (only) facilitator. Along with that production Bonner (13.3 PPG), Griner (13 PPG), and Dupree (18.3 PPG) have been what the team was missing early in the season.

No body is worried about stepping on toes or hurting feelings. Taurasi stirs the drink, but it is a much more complex cocktail than a few months ago. The different flavors and combination's have made this a more diverse and complex team. They are not a one trick pony with a bevy of talented, but timid stars.

They are becoming a team at the right time building momentum, finding themselves, and gearing up for the real season.

******************************

...and a Playoff Update.

Minnesota Lynx: 24-7 Clinched (three games remaining)

Los Angeles Sparks: 22-10 Clinched (two games remaining)

Phoenix Mercury: 17-13 Clinched (four games remaining)

Seattle Storm: 15-16 Clinched (three games remaining)

The Mercury still have some work to do for the third seed to be all theirs, but right now they are playing well, in a rhythm, and have won eight of their last eleven games. Since bringing Russ Pennell on board the team is playing a better brand of defense and are still trying to find themselves on the offensive end.

If the playoffs started today then the Mercury would head to Los Angeles to start things off. There is one more match-up against the Sparks, but thus far this season they are the only playoff team they have a winning record against.

In three games against the Sparks the Mercury are 2-1 with 18 made threes and two of their more impressive performances this season. The margin of victory was a dead heat as the Mercury won two games by a combined 22 points and lost one game by 22 points. This is surprisingly the most ideal match-up for the Mercury in the playoffs despite how great the Sparks can be. The season ends where the playoffs will begin in a preview, a tune-up, and an opportunity for the Mercury to strike some fear into their playoff counterparts.

******************************

Upcoming Schedule:

Tuesday @ New York Liberty at 4 p.m. AZ Time

Wednesday @ Chicago Sky at 5 p.m. AZ Time

Friday vs. San Antonio Silver Stars at 7 p.m. AZ Time

For one Phoenix Sun, this past week has been a nightmare. But for two others, the experience has been thrilling so far as just might turn into a party at the end.

*all pictures courtesy of fibaeurope.com

Poland

Gortat-poland_medium

After missing nearly four months of play time while recovering from a stress fracture in his foot, Marcin Gortat has seen his lowest national team production in a long time. After leading Poland in last year's qualifying round with 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, Gortat's production has dipped to 8.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in 4 contests, all losses.

Gortat foretold of the pressure early last week, before Poland rolled over.

"Obviously there is a lot of pressure not only on the team, but on my shoulders," Gortat dead-pans.

"I am 100% sure that if we fail, I am going to get all the beatings back home, nobody else, I am going to hear all the complaining.

"I know that, I've realised it a long time ago and I am ready to take the responsibility."

We don't know if it's the foot, or if it's so much time off or what. Eurobasket is full of tough competition, but Jan Vesely was one of those big men who dominated Gortat this past week. That's something rare to happen in the past.

Snapshot of Gortat's profile on eurobasket2013.com (sans today's putrid 2 point, 6 rebound effort):

Picture_35_medium

As you can see, he's been a rebounding machine in recent years and a quality offensive threat. Not so this tournament.

Poland played a couple of games very close, but nonetheless are 0-4 with only one game to play in "pool play". The top 3 of 6 teams in each pool advance to the next round, so Poland is basically out of it already. Such a disappointment may have already reared its head today, as Poland got jackstomped by Spain 89-53.

Best case for the Suns: Gortat gets 3 weeks to heal further, work out and prepare for the long NBA season before training camp starts.

Best case for Gortat is that the extra rest works, and he can find his game again.

Ukraine

Kravtsov_medium

Newest Sun, Viacheslav Kravtsov, has a been a key, predictable cog for Ukraine, who is missing one of their youngest players in Alex Len (ankles).

Ukraine is 3-0 entering today's game against a very good French team loaded with NBA talent.

A quick glance at Kravtsov's week looks quite similar to prior years.

Picture_36_medium

Picture_37_medium

This scouting report shows how important Kravtsov is to Ukraine. Not quite as important as Dragic and Gortat to their teams, but important nonetheless.

Slava Kravtsov is team Ukraine's only active NBA player who, after being benched by the Detroit Pistons for most of 2012/13 season, is hungry for game action and is expected to have a breakthrough campaign under coach Fratello and use the momentum in the NBA. Kravtsov is Ukraine's most athletic big man, who can run the floor and finish in transition. He is also an intimidating force on defence, as his help side shot-blocking ability will provide Fratello's team with several igniting defensive stops-per-game. EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia is, as for the majority of the players, going to be Kravtsov's third straight summer coached by the Czar.

It looks like Ukraine will move on to the next round of games in Slovenia, and it will be interesting to see how Kravtsov's production continues. He's been alternately very good (4 blocks in one game, 15 and 8 in another) and very pedestrian (6 and 1).

Slovenia

Slovenia-fans_medium

Clearly, the Phoenix Sun having the most fun this week has to Goran Dragic. Not only is he having statistically his best international tournament ever, but he's been able to meet - and even exceed - expectations of his country to boot. No one is under more local pressure than Goran Dragic, whose country of only 2 million people are hosting the tournament.

Dragic has hit game-winners, had game-changing runs and led his team in just about every statistical category in 3 games to date.

Take a look at his numbers, specifically the assists, compared to the rest of the field THIS year, and compared to his stats in prior tournaments.

Picture_38_medium

Picture_39_medium

With former Euroleague MVP and Slovenian legend Jaka Lakovic fading into the sunset, Dragic has finally taken over the reins of the Slovenian squad full time while Lakovic plays backup minutes and/or the shooting position on the wing while Dragic handles the ball.

Slovenia is already 3-0, with a win over Group-mate and mighty Spain, so they appear to be a lock for Round 2 no matter what happens in their last 2 "pool" games against Croatia (2-1) and Poland (0-4).

A win over Croatia today would clinch a spot in Round 2.

Big Matchup on Monday

In what might be Marcin Gortat's swan song for Eurobasket 2013, Poland faces Slovenia in the final game of pool play tomorrow. The likeliest outcome has Gortat taking the next three weeks off, while Dragic fights onward for a medal.

For one Phoenix Sun, this past week has been a nightmare. But for two others, the experience has been thrilling so far as just might turn into a party at the end.

*all pictures courtesy of fibaeurope.com

Poland

Gortat-poland_medium

After missing nearly four months of play time while recovering from a stress fracture in his foot, Marcin Gortat has seen his lowest national team production in a long time. After leading Poland in last year's qualifying round with 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, Gortat's production has dipped to 8.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in 4 contests, all losses.

Gortat foretold of the pressure early last week, before Poland rolled over.

"Obviously there is a lot of pressure not only on the team, but on my shoulders," Gortat dead-pans.

"I am 100% sure that if we fail, I am going to get all the beatings back home, nobody else, I am going to hear all the complaining.

"I know that, I've realised it a long time ago and I am ready to take the responsibility."

We don't know if it's the foot, or if it's so much time off or what. Eurobasket is full of tough competition, but Jan Vesely was one of those big men who dominated Gortat this past week. That's something rare to happen in the past.

Snapshot of Gortat's profile on eurobasket2013.com (sans today's putrid 2 point, 6 rebound effort):

Picture_35_medium

As you can see, he's been a rebounding machine in recent years and a quality offensive threat. Not so this tournament.

Poland played a couple of games very close, but nonetheless are 0-4 with only one game to play in "pool play". The top 3 of 6 teams in each pool advance to the next round, so Poland is basically out of it already. Such a disappointment may have already reared its head today, as Poland got jackstomped by Spain 89-53.

Best case for the Suns: Gortat gets 3 weeks to heal further, work out and prepare for the long NBA season before training camp starts.

Best case for Gortat is that the extra rest works, and he can find his game again.

Ukraine

Kravtsov_medium

Newest Sun, Viacheslav Kravtsov, has a been a key, predictable cog for Ukraine, who is missing one of their youngest players in Alex Len (ankles).

Ukraine is 3-0 entering today's game against a very good French team loaded with NBA talent.

A quick glance at Kravtsov's week looks quite similar to prior years.

Picture_36_medium

Picture_37_medium

This scouting report shows how important Kravtsov is to Ukraine. Not quite as important as Dragic and Gortat to their teams, but important nonetheless.

Slava Kravtsov is team Ukraine's only active NBA player who, after being benched by the Detroit Pistons for most of 2012/13 season, is hungry for game action and is expected to have a breakthrough campaign under coach Fratello and use the momentum in the NBA. Kravtsov is Ukraine's most athletic big man, who can run the floor and finish in transition. He is also an intimidating force on defence, as his help side shot-blocking ability will provide Fratello's team with several igniting defensive stops-per-game. EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia is, as for the majority of the players, going to be Kravtsov's third straight summer coached by the Czar.

It looks like Ukraine will move on to the next round of games in Slovenia, and it will be interesting to see how Kravtsov's production continues. He's been alternately very good (4 blocks in one game, 15 and 8 in another) and very pedestrian (6 and 1).

Slovenia

Slovenia-fans_medium

Clearly, the Phoenix Sun having the most fun this week has to Goran Dragic. Not only is he having statistically his best international tournament ever, but he's been able to meet - and even exceed - expectations of his country to boot. No one is under more local pressure than Goran Dragic, whose country of only 2 million people are hosting the tournament.

Dragic has hit game-winners, had game-changing runs and led his team in just about every statistical category in 3 games to date.

Take a look at his numbers, specifically the assists, compared to the rest of the field THIS year, and compared to his stats in prior tournaments.

Picture_38_medium

Picture_39_medium

With former Euroleague MVP and Slovenian legend Jaka Lakovic fading into the sunset, Dragic has finally taken over the reins of the Slovenian squad full time while Lakovic plays backup minutes and/or the shooting position on the wing while Dragic handles the ball.

Slovenia is already 3-0, with a win over Group-mate and mighty Spain, so they appear to be a lock for Round 2 no matter what happens in their last 2 "pool" games against Croatia (2-1) and Poland (0-4).

A win over Croatia today would clinch a spot in Round 2.

Big Matchup on Monday

In what might be Marcin Gortat's swan song for Eurobasket 2013, Poland faces Slovenia in the final game of pool play tomorrow. The likeliest outcome has Gortat taking the next three weeks off, while Dragic fights onward for a medal.

This is the first installment of two (look for Part Two in the coming days) previewing the upcoming season based on the significance of the numbers. To get started I kept it simple looking at the context of the numbers 0-9. Ten basic numbers that give signs, omens, and other perspectives on the upcoming season for the Phoenix Suns.

Men lie. Women lie... But numbers do not. Because they are numbers.

Zero Former All-Stars On The Current Roster

The Phoenix Suns are one of six teams this season to enter the year without at least one current or former All-Star on the roster. They join the Charlotte Bobcats, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, and the Washington Wizards with that distinction.

Health and trades are the reason why a few teams do not have a current All-Star, but nonetheless the Suns are in this dubious category entering the season.

It takes talent to get to the playoffs and win as we have seen with the last six NBA Champions donning a minimum of two Hall of Fame caliber talents and every other team in contention having similar models. The years of making a run behind one star and depth of quality seems to be history so for those teams, like the Suns, without a dearth of talent, are left so far behind they don't even get the luxury of seeing the dust.

1st Time In Franchise History The Team Has Had Back-to-Back 50 Loss Seasons...

One thing is for certain about the Suns as a franchise; they have been the model of consistency. In the teams 45 year history they have had 30 winning seasons, 29 trips to the playoffs, and two shots at the Championship. There was however a dark period for the Suns back in the 1970's.

Back in 1973-1974 & 1974-1975 the team finished with back-to-back 50+ loss seasons. That was the only stretch of that kind in the franchises history. There were some positive returns from that low point as the team made their first trip to the NBA Finals the following year after losing 102 games and came up just short against the Boston Celtics, but nonetheless they made the jump relatively quickly after being that bad. Sign for the future?

2nd Most Turnover Prone Team In The NBA Last Year...

Last year the team turned the ball over at an alarming rate and the most as a team since Terry Porter tried to grind down the team to a halt in the half-court with Shaquille O'Neal as the teams "center" piece. That is particularly ironic after the team invested in a large free-agent contract with Goran Dragic and drafted Kendall Marshall in the lottery. Both point guards.

This year they continue adding new ball-handlers with Eric Bledsoe (career 3.5 turnovers per 36) and Archie Goodwin (3.6 turnovers per 36 in college) to remedy that.

Three Years Since The Team Last Made The Playoffs...

And oh what a trip to the playoffs that became... The team turned things on at the end winning 14 of their final 16 games cruising into the playoffs as hot as any team in the NBA at that point. That hot streak continued winning eight of their first 10 games including a dramatic sweep of the often ruler holding San Antonio Spurs who, for the first time, saw the shoe on the other foot against the Suns.

The team came away a tip-in away from a Game 7 and the chance at making another trip to the NBA Finals. It was not in the cards, but that memory is the last the Suns have given their fans of positive, winning basketball. As tough as that loss was, I was in a bar filled with Lakers and Suns fans that night, trust me, it was EMOTIONAL for everyone in there, the game itself was the last positive moment the team has displayed on the court in three years.

Four Games In A Row Was The Longest Winning Streak Last Year...

That is tied for the shortest winning streak since Frank Johnson was the head coach in 2003-2004, another 50+ loss season.

Five Times The Suns Won More Than Two Games In A Row Last Year...

That was nearly a league low, but thankfully the Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, and the Bobcats played a more consistent brand of inconsistent basketball. The league average was 9.26 times per team of winning at least 2+ games in a row putting the Suns noticeably below the average. Then again the average for non-playoff teams was 6.78 burying the Suns below the playoff line and even further than that, under most of the bad teams in the league.

Six Former Suns Players As Coaches Including Jeff Hornacek This Year...

That list includes Frank Johnson (two seasons with the Suns as a player), John Wetzel (3), Danny Ainge (3), Paul Westpaul (6), and Dick van Arsdale (9) that transitioned from being a player to being the coach.

In the past that has not been a successful pattern as all five of those coaches lasted less than four full seasons on the sideline. Coach Hornacek played for the Suns for six seasons and recently signed a three year to coach the team that drafted him. Omen of the future?

If The Suns Lose Seven More Games Than The Blazers This Season Then...

...they fall another notch down to having the 19th most losses in NBA history. For the team with the team with the 10 most wins and 4th highest winning percentage in league history they are moving up (down) the loss column as well. They have been around for 45 years coming into this season and have accomplished a lot in that time frame, but equal to their previous successes, this current stretch has brought the team back down to earth historically. Ironically the Suns have 70 more wins than the Blazers and have only been in existence for two more years than they have.

This period in Suns basketball will have a lot of negative historical ramifications, but that is required in most cases to get back on track. Very few franchises lose all-time historically great players and seamlessly move into the next phase of winning without a transitional period. This is that period.

Eight Players 24 Or Younger...

(Disclaimer: If you are looking at ESPN then the Suns have nine, but Diante Garrett is no longer on the roster)

Another disclaimer should read: Nearly every team will reduce its roster in the next month waiving some of the younger players signed as Training Camp Invites. Happens every year. This year, for the Suns, they will likely keep most of their young talent because they drafted, traded for, or acquired all of them with a purpose. There will be casualties like Malcolm Lee (too many point guards) or Alex Oriakhi (signed in Europe) shaving off some of the young talent, but regardless of that Bledsoe, Alex Len, Goodwin, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, and Marshall are all a part of the fabric of this rebuilding process.

Nine New Players On The Roster, Counting Channing Frye...

If we include the front office and coaching staff there are too many new faces to count. Basically only Robert Sarver, Lon Babby, Mark West, the training staff, and seven players total are familiar faces. This is a completely new look franchise. That has been the norm for the past 5-6 years with the team changing coaches, front offices, players, and personalities like John Cusack in Identity.

The Suns were not very watchable last year, but there were a few plays that stood out. Most of them initiated by great Dragic passes and finished by nice dunks. A couple Wes Johnson plays in there, and even a Beasley.

But all in all, these were not awesome plays and even the players themselves weren't hooting and hollering afterward. Let's hope this season they're all on the same page and celebrating when things go really well.

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