West Powers Collide: What's At Stake in Thursday's Mercury vs. Lynx Showdown
It doesn't get much bigger in the WNBA's regular season than Thursday night's matchup between the 22-3 Phoenix Mercury and 20-6 Minnesota Lynx (NBA TV, 8 PM ET).
The game will feature: two teams that have won a combined 42 of the 51 games they've played this season, including 23 straight; a team that has won two of the past three WNBA titles against a rising potential dynasty; six of this year's 12 West Conference All-Stars; and this season's top scorer and the league's No. 2 all-time leading scorer -- to rattle off just some of their credentials.
Here's what's at stake in Thursday's showdown in Minneapolis:
1. West Conference Supremacy
Phoenix sits 2.5 games ahead of Minnesota at the top of the West, with the East's Atlanta Dream trailing behind by 3.5 games in the race for the WNBA's best record. The Mercury have already beaten the Lynx twice this season, snapping a 14-game losing streak against them that extended across the previous three seasons.
Just 18 days remain in the regular season, and gaining the top seed and home court advantage in the playoffs would make either team instant favorites: They are both virtually unbeatable at home, with matching 12-1 records.
2. A Pair of Winning Streaks
The last time either the Phoenix or Minnesota lost was 25 days ago. But it's the Mercury -- riding a 16-game winning streak, the second-longest ever in the WNBA -- who are putting history on the line on Thursday, three victories away from surpassing the 2001 Sparks' record 18-game streak.
The Lynx have won a more modest seven straight, but are capable of extending that run into the playoffs if they can get past Phoenix.
Maya Moore, in the midst of one of the greatest individual seasons in WNBA history, has been the MVP favorite since opening night. And she's cemented that status with each scoring outburst, from her four straight 30+-point games to kick off the season to her 48-point special nine days ago.
Yet all-time great Diana Taurasi has been narrowing the gap by the day. There's no better way to state a case for her second MVP trophy than by defeating Moore's Lynx for the third time this season and gaining the upper hand for the league's best record.
4. Even More History
The best of the rest: Phoenix is aiming for the winningest season in league history, needing to win seven of its last nine games to surpass the current record of 28.
Mercury center Brittney Griner is 18 blocks away from breaking Margo Dydek's single-season record of 114; her current 3.9 blocks per game average would surpass Dydek's record 3.8 in 1998.
Moore's scoring average of 24.3 points per game would rank second all-time to Taurasi's 25.3 in 2006. She would need to average just under 29 points over her next eight games to pull it off.