Record: 10-10

Place In Standings: Third

Points Per Game: 82.8

Points Against: 84.9


All things considered, the Phoenix Mercury should consider trying to change conferences if that is possible. After another win over the L'Eastern Conference the team improved to 6-1 against the best teams out east, but remain 4-9 against the Western Conference. A large part of that is an 0-5 record against the Minnesota Lynx.

The team got a rare win over a playoff caliber team, but as head coach Corey Gaines stated, "right now we are just worried about us."

With 15 total games remaining in the season the Mercury still have a chance to rattle off a few wins to chase down the Los Angeles Sparks, 13-7 on the season, and only 3.5 games back. The Mercury play nine straight opponents that are currently under .500 on the season. Time to play catch-up and there are a few ways they can do this going forward...


Zone Defense

"We are getting better," Gaines said. "Every team is different."

Obviously the team is going to only get better in the zone with time going from game to game and even quarter to quarter. In the first half against the Atlanta Dream the Mercury did not show well as they pulled Brittney Griner out of the paint and scored on back door cuts like clockwork. It was almost too easy.

The parts are getting put in the right position, but whether they go small, big, or traditional with the line-up the zone is still a work in progress.

"Phoenix put a zone in there a little bit more upscale," Dream coach Fred Williams said about the Mercury Zone. "We took some shots and they kind of got some runs out of us."

After the game it was clear that Mercury can get the zone going as a weapon for them on the defensive end translating to more offense. It also allows the Mercury to play with a certain intensity...


Playing Angry

On top of playing the zone more effectively the Mercury turned the corner last week playing angry. That seems like a simple and odd strategy, or simply odd, but nonetheless the team responded well when they fell behind. That gave them an edge, a chip, and an aura of angry confidence that lit the fire under the team on both ends of the floor.

The team came out strong with that edge attacking the rim, playing with a controlled aggressiveness, and slowing the game down.

In the second half of the victory over the Dream the Mercury slowed things down to a halt. The first half featured 55 possessions and a three-point deficit. The team was playing too fast and sloppy. In the second half they cooled things down with 45 total possessions (despite 10 more turnovers) and a nine-point swing to get the victory. That style requires every player to play with a chip every game and every quarter to take advantage of that desperate, but effective style.

That will be needed with the upcoming schedule this week of tough, but winnable games for the Mercury...


Upcoming Schedule:

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

Friday vs. Tulsa Shock at 7 p.m. AZ Time

Sunday vs. Tulsa Shock at 3 p.m. AZ Time

The frustration could not have been building for long, since the score was only 5-2 in the first period when this happened. But it's clear Dragic was frustrated with how he reacted to a clean strip on a drive to the hoop.

View this gallery here.
Alex Len won't be the only thing debuting this year. #NewLookSuns — Phoenix Suns (@Suns) July 8, 2013 The Phoenix Suns will debut their new jerseys Aug. 15 during...

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When you are the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, or even the Cleveland Cavaliers you know exactly how things are going to go. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving eat first with the rest of the team falling in line to create an established "pecking order" throughout the roster. That can be said for about two thirds of the NBA next season as well.

That cannot necessarily be said about the Phoenix Suns who are coming off the franchises second worst season ever (worst if you do not count the inaugural season) and are still building towards establishing a competitive team.

Coming into this season the brain trust of Lon Babby, Ryan McDonough, and Jeff Hornacek have put together the staff and roster that will lead this team going forward.

The parts are different, but the message seems to be subtly the same as they were last year.

"At the end of the year one of the ways I will measure how we did -- not necessarily in terms of wins and losses, but did our guys play hard, did they play the right way, were they unselfish, and did they get better as the year went on. As long as the effort is there..." General Manager McDonough on team goals.

On the surface that is a simple statement that every team makes to start the season, but it is eerily similar to the message that was delivered last season.

"For us what we are going to do is play hard every single night, compete like crazy, and play unselfish basketball. If we do those things we will take the results for what it is. We are not trying to chase the Lakers right now, we are trying to reestablish what we are going to be and the culture of our team for years to come," former Head Coach Alvin Gentry at Media Day on October 1st last year.

The roster as presented is going to open up some opportunity for players to step up and be contributors, starters, and leaders for the team. Last season the team had to integrate nine new players with no leaders established coming into the season. Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, and Jermaine O'Neal took over the leadership roles for the team due to seniority and role on the team last year, but there was room for others to step up and be in that group all year.


This year the team could welcome as many as eight new players (nine if you count Channing Frye who missed all of last season) to the fold.

One of the new faces last year, P.J. Tucker, went from Developmental League and European League player to NBA starter for 45 games after being on a five year hiatus from NBA basketball. The way Tucker plays the game makes it easy for a coach to want him on the court as he goes after it on every possession defending, rebounding, and most important of all hustling. Tucker is nonstop hustle and energy.

When Tucker was signed it was predominantly seen as a "thank you for the effort in Summer League, here is a roster spot" type move. He wasn't going to play.

Tucker then parlayed that into those 45 starts, fifth on the team, and third most for a returning Sun this year.

"I was really impressed with P.J. Tucker in Summer League with his leadership and you know P.J. and how hard he plays, he is all out all the time, and could set an example for some of our younger guys," McDonough said in reference to Tucker being a team leader.

Looking at not only his journey and play last season, but also now his seniority, leadership ability on the defensive end, and now tenure with the team Tucker is almost a leader by default. He is the fourth oldest player on the roster and has the sixth longest tenure with the team... 79 games.

This summer the team acquired another potential leader in Caron Butler and with Dragic returning, they have a built in leader that can hopefully continue off of his strides last season. McDonough likes those there as potential leaders.

"Guys like him and Goran Dragic, those two in particular. Caron Butler is another veteran guy that has been around a long time who is very professional. There are guys there, not just those three, it could be anyone who steps up and is either a verbal leader or leads by example. Hopefully we have a few good leaders and the rest of the guys fall in line behind them."

McDonough continued, "None of this is predetermined."

"Jeff and I told our team that we really don't care where you were drafted, or what your role was here before, or how much money your making you should be in shape when you come into training camp. We will let them battle it out and see who the best guys are, those guys will play and the guys that aren't good enough probably won't."

Money does not buy you power and tenure does not necessarily buy you respect.

That is what effort is for. Between McDonough and Hornacek the team is looking to the players to step up and take control of this team.

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