Team sports are broken down into two seasons from the regular season to the playoffs and the reset button has been hit for the WNBA -- Playoff Time. The Phoenix Mercury wrapped what was one of the most historic seasons in WNBA history winning 29 games, including 16 in a row, and winning the last 15 straight games at home.
This team is primed and poised to make a run in this second season that is equally historic with the end goal of hanging up a third banner from the rafters at U.S. Airways Center.
Up first for the Mercury is an all to familiar foe in the Los Angeles Sparks. Last season the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs where the Mercury advanced in a thrilling three game series won at the last second on a Brittney Griner bucket. That was last year. That was a Mercury team that was still trying to figure each other out as individuals. That was not this team.
All season they were trying to figure each other out and this season they have found that formula, especially against the Sparks.
This year the Mercury dominated the Sparks. There is no other way around that when you look at the five wins (and no losses) by an average 11.6 points per win. No losses. Dominance. But, when the second season begins that gets thrown out the window to an extent as every game becomes a micro-season in and of itself. Pressure is heightened and the focus has to be at an elite level.
The Sparks are a very talented team, but they have not been a complete team all season as Candace Parker missed two games against the Mercury and Nneka Ogwumike missed one herself. Typically the Sparks have the advantage in the paint with that duo, despite the redundancies and limitations discussed on this weeks podcast, but against the Mercury that advantage gets neutered.
Not just this series, but the playoffs as a whole are going to determine a lot for this Sparks team.
The Mercury are building what might be a 3-5 year window dynasty with DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree, and Diana Taurasi all signing extensions in recent years and the youth of Brittney Griner enfusing the team together into greatness. They have their coach, their team, and organizational structure from top-to-bottom now.
All of that cannot be said about the Sparks who have to deal with Candace Parker's free-agency this fall/winter, a potential change in the coaching staff, and a roster filled with talent, but talent that is not clicking at the highest level possible. Despite the fact that free-agents rarely leave home in the WNBA because the money is not like it is in the NBA, she could leave. Parker has not won in the shadow of Lisa Leslie and could find greener pastures, or at least more successful pastures, elsewhere.
This series could be the rise of the Mercury Dynasty and the fall of the Parker Era in Los Angeles.
For the Sparks it comes down to jump-shots... Either making them or reducing the amount of long two's that they take because of Griner inside. Those jump-shots are fool's gold after a few go down they are playing into the Mercury's defensive strategies as a whole. Jump-shots.
That player is Bonner for the Mercury. After you get past the Griner-Parker, Candice Dupree-Ogwumike, Taurasi-Tolliver match-ups the game is wide open for Bonner to play free safety on defense and be a weapon on the offensive end. Her efficiency has been admirable this year on the offensive end taking less difficult shots and scoring smarter all-around.
This season the Mercury outscored the Sparks 85.4 - 73.8 and out-rebounded them 35.2 - 33.6 on the season per game. The turnovers were dead even. Looking at the match-ups in the season series here is how the teams stacked up against each other in the five games:
|Diana Taurasi||18.8ppg 5.4apg 3.0rpg|
|Penny Taylor||8.0ppg 3.4apg|
|DeWanna Bonner||13.6ppg 5.4rpg|
|Candice Dupree||13.8ppg 7.6rpg|
|Brittney Griner||15.8ppg 7.2rpg 3.2bpg|
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
|Alana Beard||7.2ppg 1.2apg|
|Kristi Tolliver||12.6ppg 3.6apg|
|Jantel Lavender||11.2 8.6rpg|
|Candace Parker||21.3ppg 9.3rpg|
|Nneka Ogwumike||15.5ppg 7.2rpg|
With full health the Mercury are too deep, too balanced, and too focused to lose to this Sparks team. Parker and Ogwumike are very talented, but not a great mix on the court and the Head Coach Sandy Brondello will key in on that. This could (should) be a quick series leading to another trip to the Western Conference Finals and an opportunity to win another Championship.
Mercury in Two (2-0)