The Mercury lost another game to a sub .500 team last night in Detroit who were without their best player, Katie Smith. Once again the team started slow and once again Coach Gaines used a variety of line ups which might have contributed to an horrendous 19 turnovers and some equally bad defensive rotations.
Coach Gaines might be thinking about getting ready for the playoffs and giving his stars some extra rest or he might just be experimenting with the variety of players he now as available to him (I don't understand how Tangela Smith and Le'Coe Willingham have far more minutes in this game than DeWanna Bonner and Nicole Ohlde and yet in the closing minutes of a tight game it is Ohlde and Bonner who are on the floor).
Still, it was a winnable game in the final minutes. The Mercury were down 92-93 with 2:37 left in the game before giving up a wide open 3 to Deanna Nolan in transition followed by an uncontested layup from Alexis Hornbuckle on a back door cut and that essentially sealed the game. The Mercury missed two open looks at three's that could have made the difference but you just can't count and making those big shots, especially on the road, to save your bacon. You win close games by getting stops.
This would all be fine, except the Mercury are now only 1 game ahead of Seattle for 1st place in the West. With LA looking like a lock for the 3rd spot, Gaines might want to push the team a little harder to get home court advantage and an easier 1-4 match up in the first round.
If Phoenix does finish second there's a good chance they would have to face both LA and Seattle to get to the finals. Even if Lauren Jackson is out (and she has not been ruled out for the playoffs) that's a tough road.
Things don't get any easier with another game tonight in Indiana against the team with the best record in the league. Just a few days ago the Mercury were only a half game back from the Fever with thoughts of over taking them for a guaranteed home court advantage throughout. Now the Merc are 2 games back from the Fever which could extend to 3 with another loss tonight. With only 3 games left in season after tonight I think you could effectively, if not mathematically call that race lost unless the Mercury step it up and get the W.
After tonight, it doesn't get any easier with Atlanta coming to Phoenix on Saturday (they are hot right now and just beat LA in LA) followed by a road game in Seattle and LA at home to close out the season. Coach Gaines likes to say there are no easy games in the WNBA and that's true but there's no denying the frustration that comes with losing to a sub .500 team without their best player due to sloppy play and unusual rotations.
So far this season there's a been a few critical games that the Mercury have managed to win. The road win over the Storm in the over time game in early August was big. The win over the Sparks in LA last week (even without Candace Parker) was another. The 4-1 road trip coming out of the all-star break might have been the most important stretch of the season so far in that it established the Mercury's dominance in the West. It would be a shame to blow all that now by thinking too much about the playoffs which are still a few weeks away.
The Mercury only play 4 games in the next 11 days. There are huge chunks of time between now and the playoffs and the team will have three or four days between the end of the season and their first playoff game. Now is not the time to rest. Now is the time to get it together, lock up home court and go into the playoffs on the right note.
It might not be time to panic but it sure is time for this team to get its act together. And time is running out.