Phoenix believes offense a work in progress

Defense the Focus Now For Mercury

By Mark Heller,
May 29, 2007

Following a 111-85 victory Friday which included a franchise-record 61 points in a half, a few other offensive milestones and the kind of neck-twisting fastbreak the Mercury want to force down every other team’s throat, it was easy to figure out the hot topic within the team.

You guessed it: Defense.

Even if Phoenix is averaging 93 points per game entering tonight’s contest against Sacramento, coaches and players agreed the team’s offense hasn’t reached its potential.

Half of the roster is new to coach Paul Westhead’s wackiness.

Most of the roster’s other half has been here but one week and hasn’t played much with the newcomers.

So until the Mercury feel able-bodied enough to moreefficiently outscore the league (again), defense will be the team’s forte.

It worked opening night against San Antonio, and again in the second half Friday against Houston.

Not so much in between when the Mercury were throttled at Seattle. Then again, the Mercury couldn’t come up with much of anything which worked against the Storm.

But the team was excited about its performance Friday after switching to zone midway through the game.

Houston All-Star Tina Thompson made her first six shots (inside and outside) but was 5-of-11 after halftime. Future Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes was 1-for-7, and the Comets shot 35 percent.

Rarely did the Mercury stray from their zone in the final 20 minutes.

For more coverage of Phoenix sports,
be sure to visit
“We were just kind of going through the motions in Seattle,” Westhead said. “It wasn’t bad, but there was no zest to it. It has to become a living thing, and it was late last year. (Friday) they took over the game with it.”

Given Phoenix’s style of play, offense and defense go hand-inhand since turnovers and rebounding are the only proven ways a team can run at will.

Not coincidentally, Phoenix won the two games in which it held opponents to 35-percent shooting, nearly matched the opposition in rebounds and forced 40 combined turnovers.

This is how the Mercury piled up a 61-20 advantage in fast-break points in their two wins.

“It’s a string pulling each other,” forward Tangela Smith said. “We have to pressure the guards. It really starts at the top.”

That would be Diana Taurasi, along with two of the team’s Kelly’s (Miller and Mazzante), and Cappie Pondexter.

Taurasi helped take away Thompson’s open looks at the top of the circle. But she’s also the team’s “rover” in the zone, moving around the outside and helping double-team inside when the ball enters the paint.

“The nice thing is we bounced back and did the things we didn’t do (against Seattle),” Taurasi said.

“I think that shows a little maturity and mental toughness, and we’re going to be good at both.”

The process of playing together continues. With a thick playbook — plus play variations which haven’t been implemented — it’s going to take awhile longer to play up to Westhead’s speed.

All the while, their gaudy point totals are of less interest than the other team’s lack thereof.

“Our offense really isn’t as sharp as it can be. Not yet,” Westhead said. “The defense has to hold the fort.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.