5 Things You Need to Know About #MercuryVsSparks

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: August 20, 2014

The Mercury and Sparks meet in the Western Conference Semi-Finals beginning Friday, August 22 at US Airways Center.

There is, perhaps, nothing better than a playoff matchup that pins two of the WNBA’s original franchises against each other with the winner of the best-of-three series moving on to the Western Conference Finals.

Related: Playoff Tickets | Mercury: By the Numbers

Here are five things you need to know about the series.

5. Mercury’s Balance Perfect for Playoffs

Traditionally speaking, the pace of play slows down a bit in the playoffs.

That is to say, the games typically become more physical and methodical.

Phoenix has broken that mold in 2007 and 2009 when each team leaned heavily on the offensive end. This year, however, the Mercury has become one of the best defensive teams in the WNBA as well as the most prolific on the offensive end thanks in large part to Sandy Brondello’s balanced philosophy.

“She’s one of the most prepared coaches I’ve ever played for,” Diana Taurasi said about Sandy Brondello recently. “I said that before the season and it’s even more accurate now. She really digs deep into each opponent and finds their little intricacies, tendencies, everything. It’s been a big help this year.”

Maintaining that balance against the Sparks is mandatory for the Mercury.

4. The Sparks are Dangerous

Los Angeles may have finished fourth in the Western Conference with a 16-18 record, but they are a far better team than the numbers indicate – kind of like last year’s Phoenix Mercury team.

“They’re going to be ready for us,” Candice Dupree said after practice Tuesday. “There’s no doubt about that. They have a great team and we’re going to need to be as prepared as possible; I think we’re getting there.”

Candace Parker and Kristi Toliver are two of the elite scorers in the game, and Nneka Ogwumike is one of the most efficient players in the league.

For the Mercury to advance, they must limit what Parker, Toliver and Ogwumike do on the offensive end of the floor. Additionally, since the Sparks are always a good rebounding team, the Mercury will need to place an increased focus on the glass to limit second chance points.

3. There’s No Place Like Home

With an impressive 29-5 record during the regular season, Phoenix clinched home court advantage throughout the entire postseason.

“It’s nice to be back in Phoenix,” Diana Taurasi said Tuesday. “We really haven’t had a chance to practice much over the past month – a lot of teams haven’t. It’s good to get back in the gym to work on fine-tuning some of the little things.

“Our fans always come out to support us so we are definitely fortunate that we have home court advantage.”

The Mercury finished the season a franchise-record 16-1 (.941) at home, and become just the sixth team in WNBA history to win 16 home games or more in a single season. Phoenix is also nursing a 15-game home winning streak, extending a franchise record for consecutive home wins (prev. 11, 1999).

Phoenix has not lost at home since May 23.

2. A New Brittney

Brittney Griner is a different player this season, as evidenced by her increasingly dominant play on both ends of the floor.

“She’s definitely improved in every sense,” Candice Dupree added. “She’s really worked on her game and is willing to do whatever she can to help us win – offensively, defensively, anything.

“Whatever she did when she was overseas in China, it worked.”

Griner has a defensive rating of 91.4 and an offensive rating of 114.6 – the best differential in the WNBA.

But more than the gaudy numbers she put up this season, Griner’s confidence has noticeably improved along with her stellar footwork and comfort on the floor.

1. Depth is Key

The play of Erin Phillips, Mistie Bass, Shay Murphy, Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, Ewelina Kobryn and Tiffany Bias will be crucial for the Mercury against the Sparks.

“We look to them a lot,” Sandy Brondello said. “They are each a big part of what we are trying to do. When they are contributing on each end, it makes us tough to beat.”

This season, Phoenix has one of the deepest benches in the league at every position – they can score, defend and do the little things it takes to win in the playoffs.

Along with staying healthy, the bench production may very well be the biggest key in this series.