Welcome to Bizzaro World. The Phoenix Mercury won a thrilling game three against the Los Angeles Sparks on the road, in their house, in what will amount to an instant classic behind what amounted to a game winning shot and a huge defensive stop in the final seconds.

In the final 10 seconds Candace Parker made a quick move to the basket on a brilliant out of bounds call, which was countered by a Brittney Griner jumper and anchored by a DeWanna Bonner closeout on the defensive end.

Something about that feels backwards.

I wouldn't hesitate ever to throw her the ball in that situation. -Coach Russ Pennell on Brittney Griner


But as the Mercury celebrated in Los Angeles like kids in a pool on a hot summer day, they marched off the floor to an appropriate tune echoing; I Don't Care.

After losing in game two, Griner wore her emotion on her sleeves and took it out on a traffic cone, which was not necessary after she turned over her left shoulder and nailed a baseline jumper that was the penultimate moment before the confetti fell. This season has been about accomplishment and struggle for the rookie phenom. She took her lumps learning how to play in the pick-and-roll at the professional level.

Griner is a physical specimen that has dominated based on that and that alone. She has come a long way to not only have the confidence from her coach to be the second option on a final offensive possession in the win-or-go-home play.

You are really screening for Diana... Interim Head Coach Russ Pennell barked in the final huddle of the game. Griner was being setup to give a screen for Taurasi to spring free and attack. We have enough time to throw it there and you have to post. Additional directions for Griner in case the defense jumped Taurasi. Once you screen we can throw it right into you. There was some more direction for Briana Gilbreath to give some fake action and Dupree to set a pin down, but the gist of this was obvious; the game was coming down to Taurasi or Griner.

That was the final huddle where Coach Russ Pennell drew up the final play that was designed for Taurasi, but setup the opportunity up for Griner to make a play if the defense keys in on the superstar like they had the play before. Coach Pennell had the confidence in the moment to put the ball in his rookie's hands if the play broke down for her to make a play.

Throughout the season Griner has had her ups-and-her-downs on the offensive end surely making this one of the more satisfying moments in her young career.

"It's been up and down," Griner stated after the game of her season. "Especially tonight. It wasn't one of my best games until the end but that's really all that matters. I'm glad I could do that for my team."

Conversely, Bonner has been an offensive Swiss Army Knife for the past few seasons for the Mercury either off the bench, in a staring role, or starting as a compliment like this season. She has created the reputation as a tough one-on-one cover inside 10-12 feet and a deep bomber from three. There are very few things that Bonner cannot do on the offensive end, but this season has been a struggle on the defensive end.

Those struggles were evident in rotations and team scheme situations this year as opponents would target her side of the defense for easy baskets and momentum changing three-point shots.

Bonner has great length and size to disrupt an offensive player when she gets after them. That is what Candace Parker realized as she tried to turn the corner, but was met with the 6-4, long, and determined Bonner not allowing her to turn the corner like she had just three seconds prior (in game time) for an easy lay-up. The rotations have been criticized often, but in this game, in that final play, they were the difference in Parker turning to the rim for a drive or passing to Kristi Tolliver for a makeable three-point shot.

With Bonner and Taurasi trapping Parker she turned to Tolliver as the secondary option only to see Gilbreath there instead in the passing lane.

The trap was set and Parker, forced with no other options, threw-up a shot with no chance of going in as the Mercury move on to the Western Conference Finals for the forth time in five years.

On the surface this seemed like an improbable feat; beating the second seeded Los Angeles Sparks on their home floor in not one, but two games and advancing to the Conference Finals as the three seed. Then again that was the plan from the beginning now wasn't it? Before the season a poll of five ESPN Basketball Analysts including Rebecca Lobo and Kate Fagan thought that the Mercury would be a playoff team and 60% of them saw them as the uncrowned WNBA Champions.

Over on Swish Appeal Albert Lee saw the Mercury as the second best team out west only behind the Minnesota Lynx.

This is where the team was expected to be, but the journey was so bumpy and filled with unexpected twists that this almost feels like a surprise by the Mercury, getting to this point. Taurasi was a pre-season MVP candidate and Griner was a Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year favorite to boot.

This was expected.

But in a bizarre way, winning only 19 games, losing three in a row, and at one point, six out of seven games in a particularly low stretch. The team struggled with injuries, coaching changes, and a general sense of underperforming. There were positives and negatives, some extreme lows and, with their recent play, an extreme high heading to the Western Conference Finals.

The Mercury are right where they are supposed to be, but found a way to do it with a former Division I Men's Basketball Coach, a defensive enforcer hitting game winners, and an offensive dynamo closing games out with a fortified defense.

In Bizzaro World this is how the 2013 Phoenix Mercury advance and win. In this Bizzaro World they have become the team everyone expected them to be.

The NBA season is on the horizon as the Phoenix Suns will host their annual media day September 30th before heading up north for Training Camp. There are loads of new faces on the roster and throughout the organization that are going to start putting their fingerprints on the franchise going forward.

With the Suns there are more questions than answers making them more provocative than the generic lottery team and a fascinating case study going forward.

Break up the Bright Siders, we got some questions and some answers, and likely some shenanigans as we take a look at the outlook of the Suns as they head to camp.

Seventeenth Topic: Training Camp is right around the corner. Need I say more?

1. Breaking the Ice: Last year the team delivered convincing lip-service that this was a playoff contender. What do you expect the message to be this year?

Jim Coughenour: Although I'm sure it won't be something even remotely as fatuous, it is kind of nice, in a twisted sort of way, when they say things that turn out to be insanely idiotic (in retrospect). Even those of us who were gullible enough to buy last season's ketchup popsicle (to varying degrees - Jim sheepishly raises hand) still had the opportunity to chuckle at/deride the lack of front office foresight. We had plenty of discussions as to what they should have said, after all they can't just come out and say they're going to suck, right? Well, I think this year we'll get a much more diplomatic prediction along the lines of youth, development and improvement.

Jacob Padilla: I think it's the same thing we've been getting since the regime change. They're going to talk about youth, development and up-tempo basketball, with little mention of tangible expectations or predictions.

Dave King: I am highly curious about the message I will hear next week. Dragic and Frye have both already said they expect to play to win as many games as possible. As Babby put it last year, how can you tell actual NBA basketball players you don't want them to win? That's puts a loser mindset on the entire organization. I expect to hear some conflicting messages. Kool-aid flows through players and front offices just as much as fans. The front office will be circumspect, while the coach and players will be optimistic. That's my guess.

Kris Habbas: I hate to answer a question with a question, but -- How much hurt could honesty bring? The fans are not ignorant to the fact that this is a rebuilding team and it is unwise to patronize fans in general, it could even be considered a slap to the proverbial face even. The message of a rebuilding team with an exciting new coach, athletic new players, and the promise of a promising future is enough to appease the fan base.

Richard Parker: All about the future. They might say something along the lines of the team wanting to compete for a playoff spot (which is understandable), but I don't think anyone's going to say this is a playoff team. They'll continue to emphasize focus towards the future.

2. Should the team sell false hope or reality to the fans?

JP: Selling false hope is the worst thing they can do right now and will only serve to poison the team's relationship with the fans. Focus on the positives, but be realistic. As I said in my first answer, all of the emphasis must be placed on the youth and development and the implementation of the new system. No need to address concrete team goals in terms of the number of wins or anything like that.

DK: No. Despite my earlier answer, I do expect the message from the front office to be very even-keeled and introspective. I expect to hear "we don't know what this team can do" immediately followed by "this is a transition year - don't expect much". This summer's moves have been made with a clear vision: sustainable future. Expect that to be sold by McDonough and Babby. Where we will hear the kool-aid is from players and coaches.

KH: The great thing about reality and hope with the Suns in specific is that they are one in the same. There is no sales required to let the fans know that the team is building through the draft, has an aggressive gameplan, and that they have the right people in place to make the decisions going forward. Hope, reality, or whatever it is called, the Suns have plenty of it to sell.

RP: Not at all. They should market hope, but only the kind that actually exists with this team, and that entails the team's future prospects.

JC: Reality. Especially after last season. I don't like being treated like an idiot and I'm sure that the vast majority of fans share that sentiment. It's one thing to not live up to expectations, but setting realistic goals is definitely the right approach for this season.

3. Overall the roster is set at 17 players and have to trim some fat, who ends up being the fat?

DK: The Suns have a month to figure this out, and I am sure they will. Either McD will make a massive trade to get a 2010-extendee who can't come to terms with his current team, or they will simply eat the contracts of Smith and Lee (for example). It's also possible they decide four centers is too many. I think Christmas stays, no matter what.

KH: It seems the team is obnoxiously deep at the "point guard" position with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Kendall Marshall, Malcolm Lee, and Ish Smith. If there is fat to trim it is there. The future is in either Dragic or Bledsoe, but the team has already invested so much into Marshall that he should get top priority over the newcomers for a chance to prove he can be a part of the teams future. Either Lee, Smith, or both should be the casualties after camp is out.

RP: Malcolm Lee, Ish Smith, Viacheslav Kravtsov and to a lesser extent, Dionte Christmas are my picks. Expect two of these guys to be never suit up in one of those spiffy new Suns uniforms.

JC: It is going to be tough to decide between such a talented group of players, so I propose a steel cage death match... or we could run them through an obstacle course like MXC. No reason why we can't turn this into an entertaining venue instead of the banal pink slip process.

JP: This team has a lot of small guards. Goran Dragic, Eric Bledose, Shannon Brown, Gerald Green, Kendall Marshall and Archie Goodwin aren't going anywhere before opening day. However, Dionte Christmas, Ish Smith and Malcolm Lee are all on the bubble and still need to earn their spots in training camp and the preseason. The Suns also have a pair of bottom-of-the-roster bigs in Miles Plumlee and Slava Ktravtsov. Kravtsov was actually better than Plumlee when looking at their numbers in limited minutes, but Plumlee was the highly drafted player. With a Marcin Gortat trade possibly on the horizon, the Sun may choose to keep both of them. But I wouldn't be surprised to see either one cut. Lee, Smith, Christmas, Kravtsov, Plumlee would be my list in order of likeliness to be cut.

4. Thoughts on the team bringing Training Camp back home to Flagstaff?

KH: Less distractions, closer to home for the fans, and a call-back to yesteryear for the team as they try to initiate a nostalgia plan while building a better basketball team. Cannot be mad about that.

RP: Like Jacob, it doesn't mean too much to me. I guess I can be happy about the team embracing its history, though.

JC: Good for the players. Phoenix is still running over 100 degrees and most of these guys enjoy cooler climates during the offseason. If it was me I'd rather be there. I don't think fans here in Phoenix would be clamoring to get into canned food for admission practices anyway (are you?) so it seems like a winner.

JP: Cool? Doesn't really affect me in any way. I don't even know where Flagstaff is, other than a LONG way away from me.

DK: Love it, love it, love it. It just doesn't work out to head up the hill for the open scrimmage, unfortunately, but I loved it when the Suns took over Flagstaff for a week each year when I lived there. Those guys will love it too.

5. Since the team went into Training Camp with 23 players in 2012 and left with 15 to start the season; Should they carry a full 15 this year or a smaller roster?

RP: It really won't make a difference, to be honest. I guess the team SHOULD carry 15 players so they can maybe find a keeper among those end-of-the-bench guys.

JC: Might as well carry as many as they can. McMiracle has already displayed a penchant for wheeling and dealing, and even if these guys never see meaningful minutes they can still be useful commodities in some sense. Injuries and other situations can also change the landscape in terms of playing time.

JP: Sure. If the 15th man needs to be cut to make a deal happen later on, so bet it. But the more the merrier right now. The young bigs and guards at the bottom of the bench will be good practice bodies and give McDonough enough "depth" to trade away a contributor if a good opportunity arises.

DK: Sure. The Suns still have a ton of cap room. They have to pay 17 contracts regardless, so why not put 15 of them into uniforms?

KH: If there are 15 talented, NBA level players with potential, then you carry a full 15 players into the season. Hording talent is something every team should be trying to do every season. Last year Luke Zeller didn't make it that far into the season even after being dubbed one of the "best shooters in the world" from the management team. Maybe this management group can just find an NBA player coming out of camp.

BONUS: What do you want to see the team add in camp this year?

JC: More cowbell. The sooner they can get rid of Gortat the better, but I think the fact that he's still on the team is fairly indicative of the market (welp). They've added plenty. I'm ready to see how this conglomeration takes forever to come together melds through training camp and in the early season. October 1st here we come. Basketball.

JP: I just want the team to get on the same page on both ends of the court. That was a big problem last year, an one that comes down to coaching and effort by the players. I'd like to see everyone buy in and do their jobs and start to develop some chemistry.

DK: I identity that everyone can follow. I am tired of seeing the team come out of training camp and preseason without an identity. They need to "this" team or "that" team, not some amalgamation of several styles.

KH: Shooting. Period. This team has the potential to be historically bad from behind the arc if they do not find some shooters this summer or find improvement with the cast they have. Whether that is a young player or a veteran, this team needs some reputable shooters more than anything else to avoid historical pitfalls this year. Is there a third Morris Twin we do not know about?

RP: Andrew Wiggins. Kidnap him, take him to training camp, get him to stay, and somehow fool the rest of the world into thinking he's Gerald Green.

The Phoenix Suns entered the 2013 NBA draft armed with two first round picks: their own #5 overall pick and the #30 pick, obtained from the 2012 trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. With their own pick, the Suns selected Alex Len out of Maryland. With the latter (which they used to trade up one spot to the #29 pick), the team drafted one of the youngest prospects in college basketball - Kentucky's Archie Goodwin.

The talented guard had a stellar Summer League, averaging 13.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game on 0.500 FG% and 0.571 3PT% while getting to the line nearly 7 times a game in just 24.6 minutes. As the youngest player in the 2013 NBA Summer League, Archie showed flashes of the tremendous skill that made him one of the nation's highest recruits in 2012, making several highlight plays along the way:


After drafting him in the first round, Suns GM Ryan McDonough and Coach Jeff Hornacek revealed their belief that Archie was severely undervalued coming into the draft. They were enamored not just with his raw talent and natural aggressiveness, but his hard-working nature, professionalism and maturity.

Recently, I was able to catch up with Archie Goodwin before he begins his first career NBA training camp next week and I too found myself impressed by his professionalism and the confidence he exudes. In Part 1 of this two-part feature, Archie goes over what he's been working on this summer and discusses his future goals in an exclusive Bright Side of the Sun interview:

Q: What have you been working on this summer?

A: I've been working on a variety of things. Just getting my body stronger and more flexible. I've been working a lot with our training staff on those types of things because those things have really helped me this far and they're helping me get more athletic and getting me faster and stronger. I'm definitely working with them every day and shooting and dribbling. Just getting my overall skillset better than it is because this is another level and I have to continue to get better. I'm just doing everything to try and hone my skills and just come in every day with the attitude of trying to be the best I can be.

Q: You've had a good bit of experience working out with Kendall Marshall this summer. What can you say about Kendall and his strengths as a player?

A: Now that he's had a year under his belt and he's been working extremely hard this offseason, I feel that he's gotten a lot better from last year. He's shooting the ball a lot better than he was. I can see his confidence from working out with him and playing pick-up, he's a lot more confident in his jump shot and he's been knocking it down. He works hard every day just like I do and he's in there (in the gym) twice a day just like I am so I tip my hat to him.

Q: Who else has been at the workouts recently? Have you guys been playing 5-on-5 pick-up games as a team?

A: Yeah, we've been playing pick-up games. The whole team is here now except for the overseas guys because they're in their Euro-thingy. Other than them, everybody else has been coming in every day.

Q: What surprised you most about any particular teammate?

A: I was definitely surprised by how fast and athletic Eric Bledsoe was. It's one thing to see it on TV but it's another thing to see it actually going on. I feel like he's going to have a really good year just because he's going to be able to play outside of a system where he wasn't able to be a starting point guard. Now that he has the option to be that, I think he's going to be really good.

Q: I'm glad you brought up Eric Bledsoe. A lot of fans are definitely looking forward to seeing the new-look back-court in action. With you, Goran and Eric, that's a lot of speed and firepower in the back-court, isn't it?

A: Yeah, it's going to be exciting - a lot of fast guys, athletic guys and young guys too.

Q: Speaking of youth, you're one of the youngest players in the entire NBA. Where do you think you're going to be in the league in 5 years when you're 24?

A: I feel like after 5 years, I'll be one of the best players in the league just because I'm coming in at such a young age and I'll be able to learn. Most guys come into the league in their 20s and they might be 25, 26, or 27, and I won't be as old as them. I'll be able to learn more at a young age.

Q: Have you gotten a chance to talk much with your fellow rookie Alex Len or to work out with him? What can you say about him?

A: I talked to him every day when we see each other at the gym. He's a really good guy. He's just 20 so he's young too and he's very good. We played against him last year at Kentucky and he had a really good game against us. He's really good and he has a lot of skills.

Q: Your Kentucky team had a tough year for a lot of different reasons and you in particular faced a lot of pressure because of those various factors. Can you talk about how you might have been overlooked in the NBA draft and how that motivates you now?

This is the city I wanted to come to...Those other teams, they have to deal with me now. I'm their problem, they're not my problem. -Archie Goodwin


A: I would just say that I wasn't really too concerned with what other teams were doing. I was just really hoping that I was going to be able to play here in Phoenix because this is the city that I wanted to come to. I felt that this would be a really good opportunity for me as opposed to any other team so when they picked me, I was really just relieved. Those other teams, they have to deal with me now. I'm their problem, they're not my problem.

---------------------------------------------------------

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my interview with Archie later this week, where you'll learn what his favorite movie is, who his favorite players growing up were (hint: Suns fans might not like this answer) and how he's so good at making Vine videos.

Well, now we know. Goran Dragic’s performance for the Slovenian national team at EuroBasket 2013 earned him All-Tournament honors, putting him into the same category as fellow participants Tony...

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Careless turnovers and bad habits have a way of resurfacing when they are buried, not resolved. Sweeping broken glass under a rug puts the shards out of sight and therefore out of mind. Then, over time, those same shards carve their way through the fabric and lacerate what was being protected in the first place.

The shards always poke through.

This season the Phoenix Mercury have made strides defensively and came together late to become a much better overall cohesive unit as the season progressed, but a broom just cannot do the job when a blow torch is needed. Interim head coach Russ Pennell was the torch bearer for all of the change and has done an admirable job with the way he held the team accountable on both ends of the floor, something that was not a part of the fabric of the team in years past, and made the team overall more well rounded. They were held accountable on both ends of the floor.

This Is Like A Heavy Weight Fight. - Carol Ross, LA Sparks Head Coach

Three ugly little truths about the Mercury resurfaced in Game Two against the Los Angeles Sparks that were under the carpet in Game One.

All season long "mental errors" or miscues that plagued the team from sloppy, careless passes between multiple defenders to just not being in the right spots on the floor at the right time. Most of the errors and turnovers were self inflicted wounds that could have been avoided.

"There were a couple of times we rebound the basketball and had people running off toward the other end and the ball went right behind them," stated Pennell about the turnovers. "We just didn't have a real awareness."

"We did some things that were not really characteristic I think of this team," Pennell continued. "I don't know if that's what you say trying to hard, you could say complacency, you could say tired. Those are all excuses. Bottom line is we just didn't get it done and we have to try to correct it before we play again."

Spotting a team double-digit turnovers every night and the fruits of those turnovers, points, are an easy way to create a hole that is tough to climb out of nightly.

With the ball sticking in one spot on most possessions the offense becomes more and more stagnant coupling with the turnovers can make any team, no matter how talented, vulnerable to lose on a nightly basis. That plays directly into the inconsistency of the Mercury all season playing great in stretches, but having the turnovers rear their ugly heads back into the picture to foil their bigger picture plans.

In the big picture the Mercury became a better team going forward because of the general care on the defensive end with the cast they have and the coaching on the staff they can be a great defensive team.

However, the porous rotations for stretches leaving shooters open and lanes agape for penetration came back into the picture again.

The weakside corner is consistently open as well as the middle of the floor with players like Brittney Griner setting up for a block and Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner struggling to stay in front of their man. Switching from zone-to-man and man-to-zone has helped quell the defensive inefficiencies, but they still revert back to the habits of old giving up easy baskets and putting more pressure on the offense.

This is the time of year where you either produce or you go home. -Russ Pennell, Mercury Head Coach

All of that contributes to the teams' lack of a killer instinct and being able to put teams away when they might be more talented, better, and have a lot more to play for.

Going forward game three becomes a game of inches, a game of mental toughness, and a pitting of two heavy-weight fighters having a rubber match to finally see who can make the adjustments, if there are any, to move forward to the Western Conference Finals. Both teams are desperate for a win and have everything to play for. There should be no complacency.

This series from the regular season to the playoffs has been about adjustments. No team has won two games in a row in the six total games played with each team winning three games and like a checker board, the Mercury are up next for a win as the series comes to a close. This has been a heavy-weight fight with the amount of sheer quality of talent, former lottery picks, and game changers.

In Game One the Mercury countered the hey-maker that closed out the season with a rope-a-dope win hanging in there to the end before closing out the Sparks. They were countered with a strong power game as the Sparks worked the body in Game Two for the win. Punch, counter punch. Punch, counter punch.

"I am a big believer that in the playoffs it is about getting your team in the right mental place," stated Sparks coach Carol Ross. "The right emotional place. We are not going to reinvent anything at this point."

Coach Pennell has his three key factors for winning games in field goal percentage, rebounding, and turnovers.

All three of those are important, but in relation to the Mercury this season defensive rotations, turnovers, and a lack of a killer instinct are the factors that have plagued the team this season. Sweeping them under the rug has worked in spots to the point where they are in a one game playoff for the right to head up to north to challenge the Minnesota Lynx again for a fourth trip in five years to the WCF.

In a vacuum this one game will define the Mercury this season and going forward with their relevance as a contender in the conference. Can they land the knockout blow?

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