Mercury Not Content with Just Making the Playoffs

By Ben York,
Posted: September 3, 2011

You’d be hard-pressed to convince me this wasn’t the biggest win of the year for the Phoenix Mercury (so far).

Admittedly, you could point to the victories against the Indiana Fever and Minnesota Lynx earlier in the season as turning points for the team, but neither of those wins really mean anything if you don’t eventually have something to show for it.

With the 93-77 win over the Los Angeles Sparks Saturday night, the Phoenix Mercury officially secured a spot in the 2011 WNBA Playoffs. It is the third consecutive trip to the postseason for the club and the fourth time in the last five years.

(Big breath in. Exhale. Move on.)

Making the playoffs is undoubtedly a great accomplishment, but for a team that has won two WNBA Championships, they have the stringent mentality that their work is just beginning.

In the locker room after the game, there were smiles and praise for Candice Dupree’s unbelievable game (22 points and franchise record 19 rebounds) but it was a tempered excitement. Getting into the playoffs was a major load off the team’s collective shoulders, but now the tide turns to a different goal – home court advantage in the first round.

“Now we need to focus on home court advantage,” Candice Dupree said after the game. “We have to go out these next three games with the same mindset we had tonight and get three more wins.”

That’s exactly how it should be. Contentment can’t exist if you want to continue winning.

It’s the same mindset they had in 2007 and 2009. And as Bridget Pettis told the US Airways Center crowd at halftime, this is a “championship-caliber team.”

They obviously have the offensive weapons to rival any team in the league. Defensively, there’s little denying the team has improved this season and, when focused, can play an effective slower-paced game. Of course, having three of the best players on the planet (Taurasi, Taylor, and Dupree) doesn’t hurt either.

Securing a spot in the playoffs comes at, perhaps, the perfect time for the Mercury. Phoenix doesn’t play again until Thursday so they’ll have a few days to rest and recuperate. This will especially help Penny Taylor who tweaked her back again in tonight’s game. Even more significantly, the rest is a welcomed luxury after spending the past two weeks on a grueling road trip.

At 18-13, the Mercury finish out the 2011 season by hosting the Tulsa Shock on September 8, then head to Seattle (for what could determine the No.2 seed) the next day on September 9, and return to Phoenix on Sunday, September 11 to cap the season off against the Minnesota Lynx.

At this point, in order to finish in second place, the Mercury will need to win all three of their remaining games. At best, the Mercury would finish the season 21-13 and their worst possible record would be 18-16. Seattle, on the other hand, is 19-13 and with their last two games at home (Friday vs. Phoenix, Sunday vs. Chicago) they could also finish 21-13.

It makes Friday’s game in Seattle that much more important for the Mercury as it could likely determine home-court advantage in the first round.

“You have to really focus on that game,” Diana Taurasi said. “We fly out Friday morning and play Friday night so it’s not the best scenario but we’ll go.”

Having covered the team for several years now, there is something undeniably special about this squad that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the camaraderie in the locker room which is some of the best I’ve ever seen in any league (NBA and WNBA). Maybe it’s the unity and how players understand what their specific role is and how it translates into success. Maybe it’s just the insane, record-setting heat we’ve had in August.

But whatever it is, it’s special.

Get ready, X-Factor; the 2011 WNBA Playoffs is just around the corner.

We’re in for a treat.