Mercury Meter: Phoenix Mercury Playoff Preview

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

So many questions... So many factors... It is playoff time meaning that the slate is clean and the Phoenix Mercury now have a chance to reach their pre-season potential. Are you ready X-Factor?

Record: 19-15 (9-4 under Russ Pennell)

Place In Standings: Third (facing Los Angeles Sparks in first round of playoffs)

Points Per Game: 80.46 (76.07)

Points Against: 80.0 (73.15)

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The final game of the season was looked at as a glorified scrimmage from all angles, but the coaches put on a song and dance that this game was to be taken serious. That game skewed the numbers and made this look like a lopsided match-up although that is not necessarily the case.

This season the Mercury turned things around and made strides as a complete team. Under interim head coach Russ Pennell they became one of the better teams in the WNBA.

Looking strictly at the numbers the Mercury became the best Mercury Defense in the franchises history shaving nearly seven total points off of their defense under Pennell. The team is rotating better, rebounding better, and unlike any other Mercury team in the past, making an effort on the defensive end.

The addition of Brittney Griner and her 6.3 rebounds per game, 3.0 blocks per game, and more important, about 12 altered shots per game the defense has become formidable.

Add in the likes of Briana Gilbreath, Alexis Hornbuckle, and quality of depth this team has produced on both ends of the floor. It is those glue players that allow the talents of Diana Taurasi (20.3 points per game), Penny Taylor (8.4), DeWanna Bonner (14.5), and Candice Dupree (15.2) to shine through. This has become a team. Have they become a team with enough time to compete for a Championship? That is still to be determined, but one thing is for certain and that is that this team saw a flaw, made an effort to correct it, and in turn have a fighting chance to win games that matter.

First on the slate are the Los Angeles Sparks.

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Sparks v. Mercury This Season...

One game skewed the numbers, but ironically if the Mercury could hand pick their opponent this playoffs out of the group of the Minnesota Lynx, Sparks, and Seattle Storm then it would have been the Sparks. Not that the team would publicly admit that, but looking at the season numbers this is the most favorable match-up that would allow the season to continue.

The Mercury combined to go 0-9 against the Lynx and Storm this season struggling against those teams. Against the Sparks the numbers were slightly better, but that final game of the season moved them in the Sparks favor a little more.

Stat

Mercury

Sparks

Wins
2
2
Points
79.5
85.5
Rebounds
33.25
39.0
Turnovers
16.0
12.0
FG%
42.7%
44.1%
3PT%
27.4%
30.4%
Free-Throws
70
68

This season each team won on the others floor and each has won at home. They were about as even, split down the middle as possible, and that is what makes this an intriguing match-up.

Earlier in the season the Mercury ended an emotional losing streak against the Sparks with an impressive win. Each team is absolutely loaded with talent. Each team has a No. 1 Overall Pick from the past two years in Nneka Ogwumike and Brittney Griner. Each team has an embarrassment of riches from Candace Parker (No. 1 in 2008), Lindsey Harding (No. 1 in 2007), Alana Beard (No. 2 in 2004), Kristi Tolliver (No. 3 in 2009), Jantel Lavender (No. 5 in 2011) making up a team with talent and balance.

Then you look at the Mercury and they have Taurasi (No. 1 in 2004), Alexis Hornbuckle (No. 4 in 2008), Bonner (No. 5 in 2009), and Dupree (No. 6 in 2006) giving them a similar amount of talent.

Talent is not the question or the issue in this game. Balance and team play will determine who heads on to the Western Conference Finals.

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...A Look At The Numbers...

Under Coach Pennell the team has been tremendously different in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Before Pennell the Mercury were one of the worst defensive teams and lacked direction offensively. In the last ten games the Mercury have been a Top 3 defense and a Top 5 rebounding team and trending in the right direction.

Stat
Mercury
Sparks
Points
80.46
81.94
Rebounds
35.09
34.56
Turnovers
15.15
14.00
FG%
45.3%
47.5%
3PT%
30.3%
34.6%
Free-Throws
81.1%
77.8%
Wins-Losses
19-15
24-10

Both teams have four players that average double figures being led by an All-World player. Both teams share the ball considerably well with the edge going to the Sparks with 18.8 assists per game to the Mercury's 16.9 assists per game.

What the Sparks do very well is get every player involved on the offensive end before Parker takes over the game with her ability to score.

Parker lies in wait as the offense gains a rhythm, then closes out opponents like a superstar does. The Mercury have experimented with that as well with Taurasi playing the role of distributor and scoring within the offense as the game progressed, as the team needs it. Then she closes out games like only a superstar can do.

Across the board the numbers are pretty even for each team. This is a game that will come down to execution and which team's cast will best support their star.

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...Mercury Playoff History.

In the 16 year history of the Mercury they are 5-2 in the first round of the playoffs. They do not lose there often. As a matter of fact since the team drafted Taurasi No. 1 Overall in 2004 the team is 4-0 in the first round with a near spotless record at 8-2 in those series.

Under the watchful eye of Taurasi the team has made the playoffs five out of the ten years and won three two Championships.

This first round match-up against the Sparks serves as a series rubber match of sorts. in 2000 the Sparks swept the Mercury, before being swept by Houston, as they did to everyone on their way to the Championship. Then, in 2009, Taurasi led the Mercury past the Sparks in a three game series on their way to the WNBA Championship.

Before Taurasi this team saw little success in the playoffs getting in for short, uneventful runs, but with her they have been nearly unbeatable in the post-season. Will that translate 10 years into her career and four years since the last Championship run?

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Key Match-Up

Candice Dupree v. Nneka Ogwumike

Statistically these two are about a rebound per game in the favor of Ogwumike away from being a wash across the board. They both play the same role as the glue between the star in the paint and the play-maker on the perimeter. Their role is to be consistent, rebound the ball, and score as efficiently as possible. Ogwumike is the younger, more talented player from a long-term perspective, but Dupree has been on a role as of late scoring 15+ points per game in 15 of the last 18 games.

That is not a slight on Ogwumike as she has scored in double-figures in 14 of her last 16 games.

Each player has a similar role and when they are rolling, scoring, and being the efficient all-around game changer that they have been all season, their teams look like championship contenders respectively. Who will get the best out of this front-court head to head match-up?

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Prediction?

If the Mercury are fully healthy through three games then I see them winning this series in Los Angeles after three hard fought games. After that, check back with me if what I just said comes to fruition.

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Playoff Schedule:

Thursday @ Los Angeles Sparks at 7 p.m. AZ Time (ESPN2)

Saturday vs. Los Angeles Sparks at 7 p.m. AZ Time (NBATV)

Monday @ Los Angeles Sparks at 7 p.m. AZ Time (ESPN2)

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