Mercury-Silver Stars Playoff Preview

By Stefan Swiat, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: Aug. 23, 2009

For Phoenix basketball fans, it’s becoming normal to see San Antonio in the postseason. After the Suns swept the Spurs in May, the Mercury hope to follow in their NBA counterparts’ footsteps when they host the Silver Stars in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs on Thursday.

The Mercury, who have eliminated the Silver Stars the past two times the two clubs have faced each other in the playoffs, will face each other in the Western Conference Semifinals for the second consecutive season. Neither team is what you would consider “hot” at the moment, with the Mercury dropping six of their seven.

However, the last two games were a bit of an aberration for Phoenix, who was resting players for the playoffs.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re on a slide,” Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines said. “Penny (Taylor) was out, DB (DeWanna Bonner) and Dee (Diana Taurasi) were out resting because we couldn’t change our seeding. If we would’ve been one game out of first - it would’ve been different - but that train left so we were just trying to get healthy.”

The Merc and Silver Stars have split their four meeting this season, with each team winning once at home and once on the road. The matchup pits two of the best guards in the league going head-to-head.

Reigning league MVP Diana Taurasi, who captured her fourth scoring title this season by averaging 22.6 points a game, will continue to provide a great deal of the scoring punch for the highest-scoring team in the WNBA. On the other side of the ball, Becky Hammon will spearhead San Antonio’s attack, averaging a career-best 5.1 assists while finishing a near second on the team in scoring (15.1 points) this past season.

The Mercury finished second in the West, a full 13 games behind the team with the best record in the WNBA, Seattle. However, led by two All-Stars in Taurasi and Taylor that have both won two championships, San Antonio is not looking forward to playing the defending champions.

“We have players that are used to that famous month that’s coming up for playing,” Gaines said. “It’s not as big as baseball in October, but we have players that are veterans. It (experience) plays a big role.”

Besides Hammon, the Silver Stars are armed with talented forward Sophia Young, who led her team in scoring at 15.3 points a night. San Antonio is bolstered on the boards by Michelle Snow, who finished 13th in the WNBA in rebounding.

“San Antonio is a well-coached team with intelligent players,” Gaines said. “Becky is a great player; a guard that can take over a game. It’s one of those things where you can’t give them easy shots, make them play defense on us and wear them down.”

Gaines believes that as long as the Mercury execute their game plan to the best of their abilities, they’ll be in good shape. It’s a belief that his best player holds, as well.

“It’s limiting them their second-chance shots, taking care of the ball and getting out and playing our game,” Taurasi said. “The games that we’ve had to grind out are the games in which we haven’t been defensively sound.”

The Silver Stars will have to overcome the absence of one of their stars, Chamique Holdsclaw, who is out with a torn Achilles. Holdsclaw was averaging 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds before she was injured in the last week of the season.

Hopefully the Merc’s Candice Dupree, who averaged 15.7 points and led her club with 7.6 rebounds a game, will be able to take advantage of Holdsclaw’s absence. But Taurasi is ambivalent on whether Holdsclaw’s injury will make the Silver Stars any less dangerous.

“It changes the way they play because they go from a very big team to a little smaller,” Taurasi said. “But sometimes when you’re best players go out, your team actually plays better, which is weird. But it happens a lot in sports and you see it all around.”

No matter what, Gaines believes that winning a playoff series doesn’t have to do as much with what the opposing team does, but with what your team does. In the end, that’s the only team one can control.

“I’ve always worried about us,” he said. “Let us determine what happens. I’m a big believer in that you create your own luck.”

We’ll see if they can create some Thursday at 6 p.m. in Phoenix.

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