Mercury (Still) Rising: How Phoenix Just Keeps on Winning
The Phoenix Mercury have won an astounding fourteen games in a row and have officially secured a playoff berth.
One last @PhoenixMercury fun fact for tonight. Tonight's win clinches the 4th 20-win season in team history.— John H. Steinmiller (@jstein1981) July 25, 2014
With this winning streak, the Mercury are approaching the second-longest winning streak in WNBA history which is 15 games (Houston, 1998) and are that much closer to the longest which is 18 games in a single season (Los Angeles, 2001).
They now have the best record in the league at 20-3 and don't seem to be slowing down. Phoenix, however, only won 19 games out of their entire season last year.
But how did they get here? Why after a mediocre season last season where they were swept by the Lynx in the second round of the playoffs are the Mercury leading the WNBA?
Here's a look at what the Mercury are doing differently this season in the midst of a record-approaching winning streak.
Last year Brittney Griner averaged 12.6 PPG and only played in 27 games due to injury. This year, Griner is averaging 15.5 PPG and has started in all 22 so far. Her game looks stronger and much more focused, likely due to the amount of work she put in during the off season.
"It's just confidence and getting stronger," she said during all-star weekend, "I put on a little weight. I took a coach over with me to China and just worked on my game everyday after practice, I did one-on-one stuff with my coach and then when I got back to the States I came back to Phoenix and got in the weight room."
She's also leading the league in blocks and not just by a few. Griner has 88 blocks individually, which is more than some WNBA teams have team blocks.
Certainly experience is a common key to success -- some things are just better the second time around (or the eleventh). But Diana Taurasi's approach is that and more. You'll never catch her just going through the motions:
"You are what you do every day," Taurasi said before all-star practice. "It's no surprise why certain players stay at a high level, it's because they work at it, they're consistent with it. You know, playing basketball is just not a game to me, it's my career, it's what I put everything into and I'm lucky enough to have great teammates -- that always helps."
And also maybe a little superstition.
"I say I'm not superstitious but I guess I'm like crazy superstitious," she said. "I get to the gym and it's like clockwork. I know exactly what I need to do before every game."
Probably the best kept secret in the WNBA now is the secret of Sandy Brondello's coaching success. Although it's starting to get some attention as Phoenix's winning streak continues to grow, it's still largely a mystery just how Sandy Brodello can lead a team on a 14-0 run. But then again, we are talking about a woman who ran the Mercury training camp the day after she returned from coaching overseas in Russia.
But her secret, according to many, is just preparedness.
"Coach [Brondello] is the most detailed, most prepared coach I've ever played for," Diana Taurasi told WNBA.com after all-star practice. "She just makes sure that before every game every base is covered. So really all you have to do is come, bring energy, and play hard. And we've been able to do that pretty consistently so far."
She also preaches defense. Which although it seems cliche is surprisingly rare to find in a coach at the professional level. (Another notable coach who preaches defense over offense is current NBA champion and Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich.)
According to Candice Dupree: "She's [Brondello's] a great coach. I think she's got us playing defense this year which is something that we've lacked in the past. It's something that she preaches in the locker room. Offensively she knows that we can score so she came in an implemented defense."
And with those things in place and with a good 11 games left this season, it certainly doesn't seem like Phoenix will be slowing down any time soon.