Q&A with Odeen Domingo of the AZ Republic

Before the Phoenix Mercury’s record setting 116-84 victory over the Tulsa Shock on June 12, Mercury beat reporter for the Arizona Republic, Odeen Domingo, stopped by for a question-and-answer about the league. Below is our conversation:

What do you make of the Western Conference at this point? Only one team above .500 and the rest hovering around about the same mark?

The Western Conference is a victim of change. And the conference has suffered for it in the early going. Almost each team has gone through significant changes. The only team that hasn’t, Seattle, has the league’s best record at 9-1. Phoenix (5-5) traded one of the top guards in the league for a skilled forward. That, in turn, has changed its running system and will need getting used to no matter what team officials say. Tulsa (3-6) has a new coach, had to deal with the move from Detroit, and began the season with just five players from the 2009 roster. San Antonio (3-6) also has a new coach and a roster that has suddenly become “old.” Los Angeles (3-7) continues the new-coach trend and is without the now-retired Lisa Leslie. Minnesota (2-9) is trying to integrate new point guard Lindsay Whalen and All-Star Seimone Augusts just returned from an injury.

How do you see things shaking out in the conference as the season progresses?

Seattle will be tough to beat and it has the intangible tools to finally return to the WNBA Finals for the first time since winning it in 2004. But it’s still very early and once Phoenix gets itself together with new addition Candice Dupree as well as the growing confidence of second-year player DeWanna Bonner, the defending champions will be there in the end. Right now, it’s a two-horse race. Which will win – the Clydesdale strength and steadiness of the Storm or the speed and scramble of the thoroughbred Mercury – still remains to be seen.

Overall thoughts on the Mercury’s season so far?

Forget wondering which Mercury team you’re going to get each game, it’s which team you’re going to get each quarter. The Mercury, right now, is too inconsistent to figure out. It could miss 10 straight shots and be down 10 points but then make the next 10 shots to go up 10, all in the same quarter. Dupree is still trying to find herself and have confidence in the system and vice versa. The Mercury don’t miss Cappie Pondexter’s scoring, they miss her ball handling. Last season, the ball-handling duties to start the fast break were shared between Pondexter and Temeka Johnson. This season, it’s solely been Johnson. Instead of trying to look for a quick pass to Pondexter and/or Johnson, the pass now almost always has to go to Johnson. And that has stunted the Mercury’s pace and unpredictability on the break

Overall thoughts on the Shock’s season so far?

Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of Hell” will take this team far. But the team still has to get used to that itself. Beginning the season with a roster that is less than a shadow of its former self hasn’t helped either. The team misses the inside presence, offensively and defensively, of the injured and previously waived Cheryl Ford. Still, the Shock have done relatively well considering all the above factors, including not being able to find a go-to scorer or two and a consistent rebounder. The Shock have also proven they have good depth.

Domingo can be reached at Odeen.domingo@arizonarepublic.com and you can read his blog at www.azcentral.com/members/Blog/OdeenDomingo/.