Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Mercury have continued to thrive behind the stellar inside-outside duo of Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, while the rest of the WNBA is scrambling to figure out a way to match up with Phoenix's All-Star combo.
Taurasi netted a season-high 32 points behind the strength of seven makes from beyond the arc on Sunday to lift the Mercury to a 94-89 victory over Los Angeles at the Staples Center. The win marked the seventh in a row for Phoenix, tying a franchise record and improving the team to a WNBA-best 13-3.
Taurasi moved into second place on the WNBA's all-time scoring list on Wednesday, passing Katie Smith. The former UConn great has a very realistic chance of surpassing Tina Thompson's record of 7,488 career points before it is all said and done, but the Mercury also have a great opportunity to win their first league title since 2009 due to the addition of Griner.
"These are the teams that you love to play on," Taurasi said on the team's website after the game on Wednesday. "Everyone contributes, everyone looks good, and at the end of the day you feel a part of something bigger than you just going out and scoring points. Any given starter can be a leading scorer and that's what is pretty cool about this team right now. We don't care who it is, we just want to win."
Phoenix has outscored its opposition by an average of 13.4 ppg in seven home games this season. The reigning WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx are still far from an afterthought despite their 87-80 loss in the Big Apple on Sunday. Minnesota is just 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Mercury in the Western Conference race. The Lynx were without star guard Seimone Augustus for the third straight contest as she continues to recover from bursitis in her left knee. Maya Moore, who paces the WNBA in scoring at 22.8 ppg, finished with 25 points in the loss. However, Minnesota showed its inability to defend against capable post players, as New York's Tina Charles recorded a double-double with a career-high 32 points and 10 rebounds.
The victory was the third in a row for New York, which is still out of the playoff picture due to its 7-11 record. The Eastern Conference is still wide open, though, as Atlanta is the lone squad above the .500 mark with its 12-5 record. The Elena Delle Donne-less Chicago Sky and Indiana Fever are tied for third at 8-10, behind the youth-filled Connecticut Sun, who are just a half- game better.
It would surprise no one if the Fever were to make a serious push to take over control of second place in the Eastern Conference standings now that they have the services of former MVP Tamika Catchings, who made her season debut in Saturday's last-second loss to San Antonio. Catchings contributed six points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks after missing the first 17 games of the season with a sore back, but her performance was not enough to prevent Indiana from blowing a 13-point lead over the final five- plus minutes of the contest.
San Antonio rookie guard Kayla McBride knocked down a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds showing on the clock to help the Stars to the 71-70 decision.
The Stars are one of the biggest surprises of the season thus far, sitting in third place in the Western Conference standings at 10-9 despite the lack of a consistent go-to-player on the offensive end. With four different players producing over 10.0 ppg, San Antonio's unselfish system resembles that of the Spurs, who brought an NBA title to the Alamo City this season.
Los Angeles, Seattle and Tulsa are all battling for the final playoff spot out West despite being multiple games under the .500 mark. The Sparks dominated Seattle on Thursday en route to a 70-56 win before falling to the red-hot Mercury on Sunday. In the loss to Phoenix, Candace Parker showed she is still an elite caliber player, as she recorded 27 points, eight boards and six assists. Kristi Toliver also had a solid showing, pouring in 26 points on 9- of-12 shooting from the floor. The Sparks were lucky to fall by only five considering they allowed Phoenix to hit on 10-of-15 attempts from 3-point range and tally 24 assists to 16 turnovers.
The Shock have lost four of their last five games, but their performance has been admirable despite the lack of positive results. Three of those four losses have come by a single possession, including a 78-76 home setback to Connecticut on Saturday. Skylar Diggins registered her sixth game with 25 points or more as she dropped in 30 points, while Glory Johnson notched a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds against the East's second-best team in terms of record.
Renee Montgomery finished off a drive with just under six seconds remaining in regulation for Connecticut, which had lost to Tulsa by 13 points at home on Thursday. The Sun's bounce-back performance was paced by Katie Douglas, who scored 18 points. Chiney Ogwumike continued to build on her standout rookie campaign with 16 points and six boards.
1. Phoenix (13-3)
2. Atlanta (12-5)
3. Minnesota (13-6)
4. San Antonio (10-9)
5. Connecticut (9-10)
6. Los Angeles (7-10)
7. Indiana (8-10)
8. Chicago (8-10)
9. Tulsa (7-11)
10. New York (7-11)
11. Seattle (8-12)
12. Washington (7-12)
THIS WEEK'S KEY MATCHUPS
Tuesday, July 8
Connecticut at Atlanta - The top two teams in the Eastern Conference will collide on Tuesday as the Sun try to climb back to the .500 mark. Douglas and company have been fiercely competing to overcome expectations all season long, but Atlanta coach Michael Cooper's squad will be looking to avenge the 85-76 loss it suffered at Connecticut on June 1 in the first meeting between these teams this season. The Dream's top-notch defense was on display on Saturday, as they stifled Washington down the stretch to force the Mystics to miss eight of their final nine field-goal attempts.
Thursday, July 10
Minnesota at Tulsa - With or without the services of Augustus, Minnesota will be in for a challenge when it heads to the BOK Center on Thursday night. Diggins has established herself as one of the WNBA's most exciting players to watch. The Lynx have won 15 of the last 16 meetings between these teams, however they needed 38 points out of Moore to defeat the Shock, 94-93, when Tulsa visited Minnesota on May 23. The Lynx also received 23 points from Augustus in that contest.
Sunday, July 13
San Antonio at Phoenix - The Mercury's goal of supplanting Minnesota as the WNBA's elite squad is quickly becoming a reality. To keep their winning streak intact, the Mercury will have to defeat Seattle, Chicago and finally San Antonio this week. The Stars are the most likely of the three to end Phoenix's winning streak before it hits double-digits. Danielle Robinson (13.8 ppg), Jia Perkins (12.7 ppg) and McBride (11.2 ppg) will all have to bring their A-games for San Antonio if its hopes of knocking off Phoenix for the second time are realized. The Stars downed the Mercury by four points in Phoenix on May 23 and lost in double-overtime to Taurasi and company at home on June 7.