Series Preview: Phoenix Mercury vs. San Antonio Silver Stars
By Mark Bodenrader,

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
The Western Conference Semifinal matchup between the top-seeded Mercury and the fourth-seeded Silver Stars marks a battle between the past two conference champions, as Phoenix won the West in 2007 and San Antonio advanced to the WNBA Finals last year.

The Mercury, who won it all in 2007, enter the 2009 postseason oozing confidence, having climbed their way back to elite status after missing out on the postseason in 2008. And like 2007, Phoenix heads into the West playoffs with home-court advantage throughout following a regular season in which they posted a 23-11 record and were the highest-scoring team in the league (92.8 ppg). The difference this year is that the Mercury would also own the home-court edge in the WNBA Finals should they advance that far by virtue of owning the league's best mark.

For the most part Phoenix has been dominant all year thanks to its dynamic duo of Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter. Taurasi led the league in scoring at 20.4 ppg and also averaged a career-best 5.7 rpg and 3.5 apg while shooting 46 percent from the floor. Meanwhile, Pondexter, who like Taurasi is a strong candidate for league MVP, finished fourth in the league in scoring (19.1 ppg) and assists (5.0 apg).

Gm 1: at San Antonio., Thur., 9/17, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Gm 2: at Phoenix, Sat., 9/19, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Gm 3*: at Phoenix, Mon., 9/21, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2
But there's more to the Mercury than just Taurasi and Pondexter in 2009. Second-year head coach Corey Gaines has seemingly mastered the ferocious uptempo style he inherited from former head coach Paul Westhead, an approach Gaines has thriving at home and on the road, as evidenced by the Mercury's league-best 11-6 road record. On top of that, Temeka Johnson has been a nice fit at the point guard position, versatile rookie DeWanna Bonner has been an invaluable asset off the bench and Penny Taylor is back contributing after taking a year-and-a-half hiatus from the league.

Things haven't been as smooth for the Silver Stars, who finished below .500 (15-19) a year after posting the league's best mark and didn't wrap up their postseason berth until the final days of the regular season. Sure, the tandem of Becky Hammon and Sophia Young has been reliable all season, but coach Dan Hughes has struggled to find production elsewhere to lessen the burden on his two stars, and that has to be the major worry as San Antonio gets set to face a high-octane Phoenix team. Center Ann Wauters, who rejoined the team in early August, has been a welcome late-season addition and should be a matchup problem for the Mercury. However, if the Silver Stars don't have players step up beyond their Big Three, this could be a short series. That will put pressure on players like Vickie Johnson, Ruth Riley and Belinda Snell to be bigger factors against Phoenix. Johnson has added incentive to help the team extend its season, as she has announced this will be her final WNBA season.

The Silver Stars can find comfort in having taken two games from the Mercury during the regular season. They were one of only two teams to do so this season along with Minnesota.

2009 Regular Season: Phoenix 2 - San Antonio 2
Some fast facts about the first-round matchup:
  • The home team was the victor in all four games in the regular season.
  • Taurasi averaged 24.3 PPG vs. the Silver Stars this season.
  • Young averaged 24.3 PPG and 8.5 RPG vs. the Mercury this season.
  • These teams met in the 2007 Western Conference Finals, with the Mercury winning 2-0.
  • Pondexter averaged 29.5 PPG, 7.0 APG and 8.5 RPG in the 2007 series.
  • San Antonio guard Belinda Snell was a member of Phoenix's 2007 championship team.

Saturday, June 6. US Airways Center. Phoenix, AZ: Mercury 90, Silver Stars 79 | Box score
San Antonio Leaders: Sophia Young (25 pts., 10 reb.), Becky Hammon (20 pts., 8 ast.)
Phoenix Leaders: Diana Taurasi (25 pts.), Cappie Pondexter (23 pts., 5 ast.)

Tuesday, June 23, AT&T Center. San Antonio, TX: Silver Stars 91, Mercury 87 | Box score | Highlights
Phoenix Leaders: Cappie Pondexter (26 pts., 6 reb.), Diana Taurasi (22 pts., 8 reb.)
San Antonio Leaders: Belinda Snell (21 pts.), Becky Hammon (19 pts., 5 reb.)

Thursday, August 11, US Airways Center. Phoenix, AZ: Mercury 95, Silver Stars 83 | Box score
San Antonio Leaders: Diana Taurasi (29 pts., 6 reb., 6 ast.), Cappie Pondexter (19 pts.)
Phoenix Leaders: Sophia Young (29 pts., 8 reb.), Ann Wauters (12 pts., 10 reb.)

Saturday, August 15, AT&T Center. San Antonio, TX: Silver Stars 106, Mercury 89 | Box score | Highlights
Phoenix Leaders: Diana Taurasi (21 pts.), Cappie Pondexter (20 pts., 4 ast.)
San Antonio Leaders: Sophia Young (30 pts., 8 reb.), Becky Hammon (21 pts., 6 ast.)

See how the teams match up position by position
Becky Hammon, G, Silver Stars
19.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.0 APG
Note: Finished second in the league in scoring and third in assists.
Temeka Johnson, G, Mercury
9.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.6 APG
Note: Averaged career-highs in points and rebounds.
Edwige Lawson-Wade, G, Silver Stars
5.2 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.2 APG
Note: Averaged career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and minutes.
Diana Taurasi, G, Mercury
20.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.5 APG
Note: Led the league in scoring.
Vickie Johnson, F, Silver Stars
6.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.4 APG
Note: Playing in her final WNBA season.
Cappie Pondexter, F, Mercury
19.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5.0 APG
Note: Finished fourth in the league in assists and fourth in scoring.
Sophia Young, F, Silver Stars
18.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.6 APG
Note: Averaged a career-high in points.
Le'coe Willingham, F, Mercury
10.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.0 APG
Note: Finished third in the league in field-goal percentage (.540).
Ann Wauters, C, Silver Stars
12.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.1 APG
Note: Joined the team on August 1.
Tangela Smith, C, Mercury
9.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.8 APG
Note: Led the league in three-point percentage (.452).