Phoenix still in contention in tight conference race

Mercury Looking to Make Up Ground in Tight West

By Matt Paulson,
July 8, 2008

Exactly halfway through their season, the Mercury are firmly entrenched in the thick of the playoff hunt in the West.

The same, though, can be said of every other team in the conference, which is as hotly contested as it’s ever been.

Just four games separate first and seventh place, and only two teams are below .500.

“These are all great teams,” Mercury forward Barbara Farris said. “Every night, any team could play like a championship team in the West.”

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Phoenix (8-9) is one of those sub-.500 clubs, but is only a half game out of a postseason slot, ground it can quickly make up. With the standings so tightly packed, rising or falling multiple spots in a single night is a frequent occurrence. Sorting out “the West is going to be ugly,” Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said.

To stay in contention to defend their league title, the Mercury need to show they can compete with the rest of the teams in the conference, something they haven’t done so far. Phoenix is just 1-6 vs. the West this season. It has kept up with the field by feasting on the East, against which it is 7-3. That’s quite a disparity.

“A lot of them (games against the West) did come early,” guard Kelly Miller said. Of the Mercury’s intraconference games, six came in the first 3 1/2 weeks of the season, when the team was still adjusting to its new players and working on its chemistry. It finally hit its stride during a ninegame stretch (6-3) exclusively against the East. Phoenix lost in its return to conference play Sunday, 91-80 at Los Angeles, but will have plenty of opportunities before the Olympic break to reverse its fortune.

Its next five games and eight of its 10 before the break are against the West.

How the Mercury fare in those contests will determine whether or not they remain in contention.

COPYRIGHT 2008, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.