Mercury-Storm Conference Finals Preview

By Stefan Swiat, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: Aug. 31, 2009

Although Seattle “storms” into its Western Conference Finals battle against Phoenix with the best regular season record and winners of all five meetings between the two clubs this season, Mercury forward Candice Dupree only sees the silver lining.

“From what I’ve been told, the two years that Phoenix did win the championship, they lost to Seattle in regular season games,” Dupree noted.

If an outsider were to look at Seattle’s regular season record (28-6) and Phoenix’s (15-19), one would make the assumption that the Mercury are huge underdogs against the Storm. Even reigning WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi is gushing about the talents of her team’s opponent.

“I mean, they won 28 games, so they’re a really good team,” Taurasi said. ”We won 15. So we’re a mediocre team.”

When asked if she really believed that, Taurasi replied with a smirk, “I mean, that’s what the record says.”

Seattle is much improved from its 20-14 record and second-place finish to Phoenix in the Western Conference standings last season. After falling in the first round of the 2009 WNBA Playoffs to the Sparks, the Storm rebounded strongly this season.

Adding former Mercury forward Le’Coe Willingham, as well as Svetlana Abrosimova, the Storm firmed up a core that had been playing together for years. Point guard Sue Bird and Jackson have always been considered one of the most potent one-two punches in the game.

The Mercury believe that solving that riddle is the key to the series.

“We just need to contain Sue and Lauren as much as possible and not allow their bench players to get off,” Dupree said. “I think our defense has gotten better, which has allowed us to get out and push the ball and get up and down the floor.”

Dupree believes that Seattle’s Swin Cash is her club’s “X-factor.” Cash averaged 13.8 points and six rebounds a game this season.

In addition, forward Camille Little has also played consistently for the Storm this season. She averaged 10.1 points, 5.2 boards and 1.6 steals (fifth in the league) a night.

While containing Seattle’s role players is important, the Mercury know that a few of their contests against the Storm this past season came down to just a few key plays.

“We just have to change a couple of things,” Taurasi said. “A few of the games just came down to a couple of possessions down the stretch, so we just have to be a little more consistent throughout the 40 minutes.”

The matchup pits a distinct clash of styles, with the Mercury leading the league in scoring at 93.9 points a game and the Storm’s defense allowing the second-least amount of points (73.9 an outing). Both teams swept their way to the Western Conference Finals, with the Mercury defeating the Silver Stars and Seattle downing the Sparks in just two games apiece.

A stingy Storm defense held Los Angeles to just 66 points a game during their first-round matchup. While the Mercury are completely aware that will have to overcome that defense, they also know that they must win a road game against a team that went 17-0 at home during the regular season.

The good news is, the reigning WNBA Champions are clicking at the right time. They’ve overcome injury bugs caught by forwards DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor, while also fully integrating newcomers Dupree and Kara Braxton into the fold.

“Records don’t mean anything now,” Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines said. “It’s a three-game series now.”

With Taurasi leading the league in scoring and Seattle forward Lauren Jackson ranked fourth overall in the category, there should be plenty of firepower and clutch scoring to go around. While Taurasi is known for doing much of the heavy lifting, Dupree has been Phoenix’s leading scorer in the postseason (25.5 ppg), while Taylor finished 11th in scoring and fifth in assists during the regular season.

However, while offense may keep the Mercury in the game, rebounding is what will win it for them. That is a fact not lost on Taurasi.

“It always comes down to rebounding,” she said. “If we can rebound well, it can help us get easy baskets in transition. And when we don’t we struggle throughout the game.”

On Thursday in Game 1 in Seattle, we’ll see how the Mercury will exactly "rebound" against the Storm.

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