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By DAN PIERINGER, STATS Writer

The defending champion Phoenix Mercury appeared to be rebounding from a disappointing start to the season before their resurgence came to an abrupt halt over the weekend. Thanks in part to the return of a star player, the Houston Comets' comeback is still alive.

With Tina Thompson back in action, the Comets go for their ninth win in 11 games on Tuesday night when they visit the Mercury, who are hoping to avoid their third straight defeat.

After capturing its first WNBA title in November, Phoenix (8-9) dropped all four of its games in May to match the longest winless start to a season in franchise history.

The Mercury appeared to be back on track after winning eight of their next 11 games. That surge fizzled, however, as Phoenix suffered back-to-back double-digit losses to New York and Los Angeles over the weekend.

Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, the league's leading scorer with 23.9 points per game, was held to eight points and 3-for-15 shooting from the field in the Mercury's 91-80 road loss to the Sparks on Sunday night.

"They played harder than us," Phoenix forward Tangela Smith said. "Toward the end of the game, they took a lot of energy out of us while we were trying to play catch-up."

Though Houston (9-9) wasn't as successful as the Mercury last year, missing the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, it was just as disappointed with its slow start in 2008. Since opening 1-7, however, the Comets have bounced back with eight wins in their last 10 games to pull back to .500 - the first time they have not had a losing record since finishing the 2006 season 18-16.

Thompson helped Houston extend its success on Saturday night, returning from a four-game absence due to a finger injury to score 19 points in a 73-65 win over Sacramento. The five-time All-Star, who leads the Comets with 17.4 points per game, didn't show any signs of rust, making eight of 17 field-goal attempts, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.

This is the first meeting between these teams since Phoenix swept the clubs' four-game season series during its championship run. The Mercury averaged 92.3 points against the Comets and outscored them by an average of 12.5.

Taurasi played in two of those games, averaging 28.0 points. Thompson averaged 17.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in four games against the Mercury.

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