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By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN, STATS Editor

The defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury are facing an uphill battle just to get back into the playoffs. Getting out of last place would be a good first step.

The Mercury look for a third straight win Sunday when they host the Houston Comets in a matchup of two of the three teams tied at the bottom of the Western Conference.

Phoenix heads into its home finale desperately trying to stay alive in the playoff race. The Mercury avoided elimination Friday when Diana Taurasi had 26 points and eight rebounds in an 81-69 win over Sacramento.

The victory pulled the Mercury within two games of the Monarchs for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West. All that is left for Phoenix after Sunday's contest is a three-game road trip to Detroit, Minnesota and Indiana.

"If we can come out here at home (against Houston) and play well, then we go on the road with a positive energy and a pretty good outlook," Taurasi said.

This game also has tiebreaker implications, with the winner capturing the season series after the teams split the first two meetings.

If those two matchups are any indication, this should be a high-scoring contest. Phoenix won 99-94 at home on July 10 and Houston gained a measure of revenge with a 94-92 home win on July 22.

Taurasi averaged 30.5 points in those two games, but the Mercury shot only 30.8 percent from 3-point range (16-for-52).

"Houston is a good rebounding team, and we need to get them out of their flow and stay in ours," Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said. "We need to get our shooters and scorers the ball and do our thing."

Houston, Phoenix and Minnesota all have 14-16 records.

The Comets looked poised to make a serious push for the playoffs, but have lost all four games since the Olympic break, including an 84-66 defeat to Los Angeles on Saturday. Tina Thompson scored a game-high 18 points and Shannon Johnson added 11 for Houston, which could have pulled within one game of Sacramento.

"We have to get down and play defense and want to go after loose balls," Houston coach Karleen Thompson said. "We have to want to do what it takes to win games. This is a playoff run and you can not expect other teams to come in here and just lie down."

One of the problems for Houston is its lack of scoring outside of Tina Thompson, who has played well in her last two games. She had a season-high 34 points in Tuesday's 90-87 overtime loss to New York.

The Comets have lost five straight road games.

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