By Philip Rossman-Reich
Scouting Report - Lynx (4-1) at Mercury (3-1) 9 PM
Phoenix is off to a fast start after struggling to a 16-18 record last season, tied for last in the Western Conference with Minnesota. Fast might be an understatement after the Mercury poured in a league-record 115 points in an 11-point overtime win over the Monarchs on Saturday. Phoenix shot 53.9 percent, made 25 of their 27 free throws and got 31 points from Diana Taurasi to hold off Sacramento. That game was hardly an aberration as the Mercury have topped 90 points in their three wins and average 91.8 points per game, tops in the league. Phoenix has two players averaging 20 points per game, led by Taurasi at 22.0 per game with Cappie Pondexter scoring 20.3 per contest.
Taurasi is an established star as she enters her fifth year. She averaged 24.1 points per game last year and is always a threat to score. Pondexter is also a threat to score. She averaged a career-high 21.2 points per game last season and got right back to work this year. She poured in 26 points in a 91-84 win against New York last week. She has scored more than 20 points in three of the Mercury's four games. The two are working well together and scoring in bunches to pace their team to start the season.
Ultimately, Phoenix's success relies on its role players. Three other players are scoring more than 10 points per game (the Lynx have one player scoring more than 20 points and three more with more than 10). Four of the Mercury's five starters score more than 10 points per game. Phoenix features much more than Taurasi and Pondexter. The team has a balanced attack that will make defenses pay for doubling its stars. Rookie DeWanna Bonner from Auburn has started her career nicely, scoring 12.8 points and grabbing 6.5 rebounds per game in about 25 minutes off the bench. Veteran Tangela Smith has continued her steady play and Le'Coe Willingham continues to find success since joining the Mercury last year. Willingham never averaged more than three points per game in the first three years of her career with Connecticut, but scored 10.1 points per game last year with Phoenix and is at 10.3 per game early this season.
Where Phoenix struggles is on defense. The Mercury lack a great rebounder, Bonner leads the team coming off the bench and Smith grabs 5.8 per game, and are constantly fighting to erase rebounding deficits. Phoenix gives up 37.5 boards per game, grabbing only 32.8. The -4.75 rebounding margin is the second largest in the WNBA. While Phoenix scores 91.8 per game, the team also gives up 89.3 per game, worst in the league. The Mercury also do not shoot the 3-pointer well. They have hit on only 29.2 percent of their long range shots. It makes it more amazing that Phoenix is scoring so highly. The Lynx have shown they can score with the best in the league and should be able to feast on another struggling defense. Despite this, Phoenix can put points up in bunches and, with Taurasi and Pondexter on the court, can post a big number against Minnesota. Playing the tail end of a back-to-back, the Lynx need to make sure they have lots of focus defensively for this one.
Keys To A Win For Minnesota:
--Attack the offensive glass
--Stop the fast break
Matchup To Watch:
Cappie Pondexter vs. Charde Houston
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