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20090621/SEAPHO
Storm-Mercury Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO, STATS Writer

The Phoenix Mercury finished at the bottom of the Western Conference last season despite leading the WNBA in scoring with their run-and-gun style. Adding Temeka Johnson is one reason that system has become a lot more successful.

Johnson will try to help the Mercury match the best start in franchise history Sunday when they host the Seattle Storm in a meeting of the West's top teams.

Phoenix (5-1) won its first championship in 2007 but went 16-18 last year, tying Minnesota for last in the West even after averaging a league-high 88.5 points.

In an effort to avoid a similar fate, the Mercury acquired Johnson from Los Angeles in March for a 2010 first-round draft pick, looking to shore up the backcourt with a solid passer for its offensive-minded system.

The point guard's acquisition certainly seems to be paying off. Johnson ranks third in the league with 6.3 assists per game while averaging 10.5 points, and the Mercury own the best record in the league.

Johnson scored a season-high 18 points while handing out seven assists in Friday's 89-80 win over her former club. The victory has the Mercury in position to match the best start in franchise history, having opened 6-1 in 1998 en route to their first WNBA finals appearance.

Phoenix tops the league with 93.3 points per game, nearly 10 more than the next club - Minnesota. Johnson's acquisition also has played a role in the Mercury leading the WNBA with 19.3 assists per game and 46.7 percent shooting - both well above last season's averages.

"We play really quick, but we ain't in a hurry," Johnson said. "We know where everyone is and 90 percent of our opponents don't. We are under control and trying to see who can hang with us."

The Storm (4-2) are one game behind Phoenix and will forge a tie atop the West with a win Sunday.

Seattle has alternated wins and losses over the last four games after opening the season with consecutive victories.

Lauren Jackson looks to build on another impressive performance in a 90-62 win over Minnesota on Friday. The star center scored 21 of her 26 points in the first half Friday, increasing her league-leading average to 23.2 points. She also averages a team-high 6.7 rebounds.

Seattle won all three meetings with Phoenix last season when Jackson played as she averaged 25.0 points and 10.0 rebounds, but the Mercury won the other matchup when Jackson was away training with the Australian national team.

Sue Bird, the WNBA leader with 7.2 assists per game, appears to be doing a better job handling the ball, with no turnovers over the last two games after committing 15 in the previous three.

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