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.

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

Diana Taurasi Making History With Every Point She Scores...

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...

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

...And Coach Pennell Keeps Winning.

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.

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

Upcoming Schedule:

Tuesday @ Tulsa Shock at 5 p.m. AZ Time

Friday vs. Seattle Storm at 7 p.m. AZ Time

Most Suns fans, especially those who have followed the team closely at any time since the mid-nineties, have a special hatred for the San Antonio Spurs. This hatred is not unwarranted. In the 15...

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The Phoenix Suns likely won't have any preseason Top 100 players in the upcoming season, 2013-14. Last year, ESPN put only three Suns - Marcin Gortat, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola - in the preseason Top 100 on their #ESPNRank and that turned out to be too optimistic for at least two of them.

This year, it's possible Gortat lands there again, but only if he has a good Eurobasket run with a healthy foot. He played for the first time yesterday and scored 20 points with six of those coming on dunks. Scola is now a backup for the Pacers, so he won't see Top 100 again. Plus, he no longer a Sun.

Goran Dragic might make it again this year. He jumped from 201 in 2011, to 83 in 2012. He was one of only a handful of NBA players who scored 14 points, dished 7 assists and stole 1.5 passes per game. But the Suns are not projected to win more than 25 games next season, so Dragic might be in trouble here.

Other than that this season? It would be a major stretch to put Eric Bledsoe, the Suns most talented player, up there before he even starts a game.

Fast Forward to 2017 - Bledsoe and Len

The suits boys at the main SB Nation office have decided that four years from now, in 2017, just two of our Phoenix Suns will definitely be among the league's Top 100 players.

By that time, Dragic and Gortat will be in decline while Bledsoe will be at his peak and Alex Len - still just 24 years old in 2017 - will have had four seasons to establish himself as a top NBA player.

The Bledsoe pick seems clear, since each team likely got someone onto the list.

But Alex Len? Really?

Here's my comment for the article:

"Marcin Gortat ranked in ESPN's top 75 after just one year of starting at center for the Suns, so I can see Len making this list if he matures into exactly the player the GM thinks he will: great touch on offense, solid with rebounding and defense, and healthy enough to prove it."

Suns fans are probably scoffing at that pick, at least here on BSotS. Since Len has been in walking boots for much of the time since being drafted, fans have quickly forgotten why he was picked #5 overall in the 2013 Draft. In fact, Len was projected as the #1 overall pick by many.

I would throw in Len's NBADraftInsider.com link, or his Draftexpress.com link for a good scouting report from way back then (two months ago), but I know very few of you like to click through. I could also link to this article stating that Alex Len is a better prospect than Nerlens Noel, or this SB Nation preview article as well.

So let's leave it up to his new coach to explain, from draft night.

"Any time you can get a 7-1 guy with a long wingspan and he's athletic, he's got skills, he's 20 years old, it's a bright piece for the future," Jeff Hornacek said after Len was drafted. "It's not very often you can get those types of players."

On why they picked Len over Nerlens Noel:

"I think all around skill. Is he as good of a shot-blocker as Noel? Maybe not, but he is still long and he can block shots. Then he had the offensive game. When you can get a guy - again, I'll keep going back to this - you get a guy that's 7-1 that can do things defensively and block shots, take up space, with the wingspan and he's got a good offensive game; you can use him to pass, you can use him to score; that's something you don't see very often at both sides of the game. That's what we felt was really exciting about the guy: he's not just one-dimensional."

On Len being a gymnast before playing basketball:

"I always feel that the best all-around players were guys that played multiple sports. You get trained different ways. And to be a gymnast, obviously you're looking at a kid that's 7-foot-1, how could he be a gymnast? That just goes to show his agility. We saw several highlights where he catches it on one side and he can spin on a guy and get to the other side of the basket. Again, big guys are not usually that mobile. He's a very mobile guy and especially in our system, we want to get out running and he can fill the lane. Several times you saw him go down the middle of the lane, get a pass just inside that free-throw line, take one long stride and he's dunking it. I think being a gymnast is going to bode well for footwork and everything else."

On when it became clear that Len was the way to go, versus trading down:

"Well, I think it was the first pick. Most of us thought that maybe [Len] would go number one. When [Cleveland drafting Anthony Bennett] happened... Ryan and his guys do a great job of talking around the league. They have relationships with all these other GMs and I think they had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. I think that was a surprise to everybody and once that happened he was pretty confident that it was going to work out fine."

Ryan McDonough said a lot about Len, but this quote sums it all up: "When Alex was there the decision was clear."

Anyone else in 2017?

Clearly, this list completely ignores the three top-100 2017 players the Suns will draft in June 2014. Psssh.

As Toon Army Sun points out below, the list does include the FOUR of the projected 2014 picks into the NBA's Top 30 in 2017. That's not bad. The Suns will hopefully get one of those guys.

Until then, I can see how Len and Bledsoe are the Suns youngest, brightest hopes to be in their primes in 4 seasons. The only quibble, and it's a homerish quibble, is that Archie Goodwin has just as much chance to be top-100 NBA in 4 years (at age 23) as Alex Len does. But that's just me. Maybe both of them will make it. But for some reason, SBNation didn't project this year's #29 pick into the NBA Overall Top 100 before he ever plays a game. Go figure.

For the first time since March 2013, Marcin Gortat was able to take the court to lead Poland to a victory in a warmup game for Eurobasket 2013. That he was even able to take the court in a competitive basketball game was a huge step forward in Gortat's rehab.

Gortat scored 20 points of Poland's 66 points, including 3 dunks among 9 of 12 field goals. He also pulled down 5 rebounds and committed 4 turnovers in 21 minutes.

According to @SunsNationPL, a polish site for Suns fans, Gortat "made a huge difference on both ends of the floor."

Regarding the foot recovery, @SunsNationPL tweeted that Gortat "didn't show any signs of the pain in his foot. Very positive both for the Polish team and the Suns."

This must be a big relief for Gortat more than anyone.

The injury

Gortat missed the last 21 games of the Phoenix Suns season after suffering a mid-foot Lisfranc injury on March 6, 2013. His rehab and healing process has been slow. After an initial diagnosis of 3-4 week recovery, Gortat was barely walking freely before the Suns season ended five weeks later.

After the season he took a few weeks off, and then began preparing to represent Poland in Eurobasket 2013. Jared Dudley recently visited Gortat in Poland and tweeted several times about how Gortat is the clear face of Polish basketball. Gortat himself said he feels a lot of pressure - both from himself and his country - to play year-round for the NBA and Poland.

The continuing pain

Gortat had said he felt "better and better" and that "the rehabilitation is going well, but I still feel the pain of the foot, even during training."

Of the return to Phoenix for a checkup before playing competitively, Gortat said "I have to make sure that I will be healthy for the whole [NBA] season."

Frankly, no matter what your obligation is to your country, your first responsibility is to the team that is paying you $8 million dollars to compete in the U.S.

In further comments to Eurobasket 2013 reporters, Gortat laid fears to rest even before hopping stepping on the plane.

"I told my colleagues on the national team, that this is not not a holiday trip," the 29-year-old center explained.

"I'm going there [to the USA] to train normally, but also to meet with the physio-therapists of the Phoenix Suns.

"It was a serious injury and it has been slow to heal.

"The worst thing is that I cannot rest, especially at a time when I know I should train hard.

"I realize that sometimes you have to give the leg some rest, and I'm running in the gym, on the floor, doing more exercise and even prolong my workouts."

Cleared to play

Last week, Gortat was cleared to play basketball by the Suns doctors, despite the lingering pain. After spending a few days in Orlando, he returned to Poland over the weekend and played today. Very well, in fact.

Good for everyone - Marcin, the Suns and Poland.

UPDATE: See bottom of this article for game 2 commentary/results.

For the first time since March 2013, Marcin Gortat was able to take the court to lead Poland to a victory in a warmup game for Eurobasket 2013. That he was even able to take the court in a competitive basketball game was a huge step forward in Gortat's rehab.

Gortat scored 20 points of Poland's 66 points, including 3 dunks among 9 of 12 field goals. He also pulled down 5 rebounds and committed 4 turnovers in 21 minutes.

According to @SunsNationPL, a polish site for Suns fans, Gortat "made a huge difference on both ends of the floor."

Regarding the foot recovery, @SunsNationPL tweeted that Gortat "didn't show any signs of the pain in his foot. Very positive both for the Polish team and the Suns."

This must be a big relief for Gortat more than anyone.

The injury

Gortat missed the last 21 games of the Phoenix Suns season after suffering a mid-foot Lisfranc injury on March 6, 2013. His rehab and healing process has been slow. After an initial diagnosis of 3-4 week recovery, Gortat was barely walking freely before the Suns season ended five weeks later.

After the season he took a few weeks off, and then began preparing to represent Poland in Eurobasket 2013. Jared Dudley recently visited Gortat in Poland and tweeted several times about how Gortat is the clear face of Polish basketball. Gortat himself said he feels a lot of pressure - both from himself and his country - to play year-round for the NBA and Poland.

The continuing pain

Gortat had said he felt "better and better" and that "the rehabilitation is going well, but I still feel the pain of the foot, even during training."

Of the return to Phoenix for a checkup before playing competitively, Gortat said "I have to make sure that I will be healthy for the whole [NBA] season."

Frankly, no matter what your obligation is to your country, your first responsibility is to the team that is paying you $8 million dollars to compete in the U.S.

In further comments to Eurobasket 2013 reporters, Gortat laid fears to rest even before hopping stepping on the plane.

"I told my colleagues on the national team, that this is not not a holiday trip," the 29-year-old center explained.

"I'm going there [to the USA] to train normally, but also to meet with the physio-therapists of the Phoenix Suns.

"It was a serious injury and it has been slow to heal.

"The worst thing is that I cannot rest, especially at a time when I know I should train hard.

"I realize that sometimes you have to give the leg some rest, and I'm running in the gym, on the floor, doing more exercise and even prolong my workouts."

Cleared to play

Last week, Gortat was cleared to play basketball by the Suns doctors, despite the lingering pain. After spending a few days in Orlando, he returned to Poland over the weekend and played today. Very well, in fact.

Good for everyone - Marcin, the Suns and Poland.

Updates

First game (8/18 vs. Belgium) - 20 pts, 5 rebounds in 66-52 win

(see notes above in this story)

Second game (8/19 vs. Italy) - 18 pts, 5 rebounds in 82-79 win

Comments from @SunsNationPL:

"Gortat with another good game, but different than yesterday. Italian team used double teaming but Marcin adjusted well and showed some great low-post moves (including Dream Shake and a couple and-1s). In the fourth, Gortat made some important buckets and showed leadership. Fouled out with 15 seconds left."

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