Mercury-Sparks Game Preview: June 8

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com

How do you stop a streaking Los Angeles Sparks team?

That’s what the Mercury will attempt to do Friday night.

Both teams last played (and won) on Sunday, June 3 so each squad will be rested and ready to go for an important Western Conference match-up (especially for Phoenix).

If you look solely at the stats, the Sparks pretty much do everything well. In virtually all categories (points, rebounds, blocks, forced turnovers, etc.), they remain in the upper echelon of the league.

What does that mean? It’s pretty simple, really – they don’t have many weaknesses.

Clearly, the collective play of Kristi Toliver, Candace Parker, and Nneka Ogwumike is the major reason why they have started the season 5-1. Furthermore, their “Big Three” accounts for over 65 percent of the team’s offense and takes 56 percent of their shots (they shoot a combined 51 percent from the floor).

But the Sparks also feature a deep, well-rounded lineup that allows them to adapt to any style of play. Ebony Hoffman, Alana Beard and Delisha Milton-Jones can step up their scoring output if Toliver, Parker and/or Ogwumike are off and are obviously known for their aggressive defense.

But perhaps the most significant storyline to the Sparks’ season is how new head coach Carol Ross has also given Candace Parker the freedom to do whatever she wants on the floor. The result? Parker averages 18 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 assists while shooting 49 percent from the field.

Keys to the Game

1. Momentum

Each of the last three games, the Mercury has shown improvements on both ends of the floor culminating with an impressive win against the Shock last Sunday. However, they’ll need to continue to build upon that momentum as they head to Los Angeles to face the Sparks.

If they can make longer the stretches of play where things flow and shots are falling, it could be a major factor in the outcome of Friday’s game.

2. Defense

When they faced the Sparks for their home opener on May 26, the Mercury gave up 99 points in the loss.

They can’t afford to do that in Los Angeles.

Throughout the week, Corey Gaines and his staff have been focusing once again on defensive consistency and proper rotations. More importantly, the players look to be more comfortable and are starting to grasp the defensive game plan instinctively.

3. Chemistry

A lot has been made of the Mercury’s cohesion and chemistry this season, and rightfully so. They’ve had to learn to adapt to the loss of Penny Taylor (and now Diana Taurasi) while also discovering new offensive and defensive concepts on an individual basis.

In spite of all that, the team continues to work hard and is trusting that the extra effort will, ultimately, pay off. And if their win against the Shock is any indication, things seem to be looking up for the Mercury.

X-Factor: Beyond the Arc

The Mercury is having an uncharacteristically difficult start to the year in terms of their three-point shooting. Currently, they rank second to last in the WNBA in three-point shooting percentage (29.4) and are attempting just 17 per game.

One would think the team is due for an explosion offensively, and their effectiveness beyond the arc could very well be the catalyst.