Still Many Questions For Playoff-Bound Mercury

By Brad G. Faye, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: Aug. 26, 2009

On Sunday, Mercury fans were treated to some great news in learning their team officially became the first to earn a berth in the 2009 WNBA Playoffs. Come the end of this week, that info may still be all they know regarding this year’s postseason, however.

That’s because with over two weeks left to play, there is still a ton yet to be decided in the Western Conference. Each and every team from Seattle to Sacramento has a chance to join the Mercury in the postseason picture, with the Monarchs, despite their league-worst record of 9-19, just two and a half games back of San Antonio and Minnesota for that fourth and final playoff spot.

In full control over their own destiny, Phoenix sits two games above the second-seeded Seattle Storm and four above the third-place Los Angeles Sparks whom they will play on Thursday. Should the Mercury finish with the best record in the Western Conference, they would play host to whoever finishes in that fourth spot – just not in Game One.

The playoff system in the WNBA works a little bit differently than in the NBA. With the Opening Round series being a best of three, the team with the home court advantage actually starts the series out on the road before returning home to host Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3.

“It can be difficult to open up on the road in the first two rounds,” Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers-Drysdale said. “Starting on the road and having to win that first game or going home down 0-1 and being put in a must-win situation (can be tough). But one always plays for home court advantage whether it be in the first round or the finals.”

With the Sparks currently the league’s hottest team behind the play of recent Player of the Week recipient Candace Parker, it’s fairly safe to say that Los Angeles and Seattle should stay ahead of the hungry pack of fourth-place teams they currently sit ahead of. That leaves San Antonio, Minnesota and Sacramento as potential first-round opponents, barring Phoenix can stay exactly where it is. And staying where it is appears to be the goal according to Meyers-Drysdale.

“We would love to continue to stay in first, but know that Seattle and Los Angeles are playing well right now,” the general manager said. “We just have to stay focused, play our game, and just be concerned about the Phoenix Mercury.”

PhoenixMercury.com had the chance to catch up with Head Coach Corey Gaines earlier in the week, and Gaines agreed that even with a guaranteed spot in this year’s postseason, closing the 2009 campaign out strong remains a top priority.

“Winning is a habit and we want to be in the habit of winning. Losing can be a habit too so we’re obviously trying to avoid that. I think it’s important for every team to have some good momentum heading into the postseason. You just need to focus on what you’ve been doing the whole year, maintaining your strengths and building on the rest so you can just try and take your game to another level.”

While the question of who the Mercury will play in the Opening Round may not be answered for quite some time, Meyers-Drysdale told PhoenixMercury.com that the ballclub will be ready regardless of the opponent.

“There are still two and a half weeks left to go in the regular season, and anything can happen,” Meyers-Drysdale said. “San Antonio and Minnesota are fighting to grab a playoff spot, and we split with each of those teams during the regular season, so neither team would be an easy matchup. But as I mentioned, we have to worry about the Phoenix Mercury and play smart, play with intensity and play with passion.”

2009 WNBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

DAY DATE GAME
Wednesday or Thursday
Sept. 16 or Sept. 17 GAME 1
Friday or Saturday
Sept. 18 or Sept. 19 GAME 2
Sunday or Monday
Sept. 20 or Sept. 21 GAME 3

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

DAY DATE GAME
Wednesday
Sept. 23 GAME 1
Friday
Sept. 25 GAME 2
Saturday
Sept. 26 GAME 3

WNBA FINALS

DAY DATE GAME
Tuesday
Sept. 29 GAME 1
Thursday
Oct. 1 GAME 2
Sunday
Oct. 4 GAME 3
Wednesday
Oct. 7 GAME 4
Friday
Oct. 9 GAME 5