Home-court advantage in playoffs still goal

Mercury Refusing to Coast

By Mark Heller
Aug. 11, 2007

When Penny Taylor was on the verge of being named an All-Star, she was asked her preference between accepting the invitation and needing a break.

Diplomatically, she wanted both.

With the Mercury already having clinched a playoff spot and their home-court advantage magic number down to three, Taylor, following a month of being beaten down physically and with a myriad injuries, was asked if it was time for a slight reprieve in playing time in preparation for the postseason grind.

No chance. At least not while the home-court carrot is still dangling.

“We need to keep going hard and get these wins, for ourselves and our confidence,” she said. “We’re still working on things. We need to get things right going into the playoffs, and this is the way to do it.”

So no rest for the weary, but it’s a move that was endorsed by both players and coach Paul Westhead on Friday heading into tonight’s game against Los Angeles.

Westhead has repeatedly talked about not touching what’s worked thus far, and playing his starters 30-plus minutes has, ultimately, yielded a 9-2 record since the All-Star break.

There’s also an “edge” factor, or belief that rotating his roster in and out of the lineup for 40 minutes would cause the team to lose some luster and force players out of a rotation that has yielded the best record in the West.

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In recent days, he’s taken a half-step back from that stance, professing his desire for little-used players such as Jen Derevjanik and Jen Lacy to see more minutes should they be thrust into important situations come playoff time.

Despite the wackiness of the league’s playoff format, in which the higher-seeded team has to play on the road for the first game before returning home for Games 2 and 3 (Game 3 if necessary), the players believe home court can make a difference, enough to keep the team’s core playing extended minutes if necessary.

“Mentally and physically, it makes a difference for us,” guard Cappie Pondexter said. “All the traveling takes a toll. Trudging back and forth wears on you.”

Whether Westhead can fit in more time for his subs remains to be seen. He was on the verge of doing so Thursday against New York, but he knows his team has been prone to letdowns, and sure enough the Liberty made the fourth quarter interesting.

It left Taylor, Pondexter and Kelly Miller on the floor longer, which is what got the Mercury this far.

“We can’t stop just because we’re in the playoffs,” Pondexter said. “It’s time for our second wind to kick in.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.