After returning to the Olympic break, the Phoenix Mercury (12-10) won three games in a row and finished fifth on the standings. Can they rise higher? Can they achieve claimant status?
These questions will not necessarily be answered on Saturday, when the Mercury goes to Atlanta for a lunch match with the Dream (ESPN2).
Since the resumption of the game, Phoenix has already Defeat Atlanta, as well as the Indiana Koors and Washington Mystics. Not exactly the opponents who deliver a test on the quality of a team’s play-off match.
Nevertheless, recent repetitions of Mercury have often suffered from poor performances against too many opponents. Ensuring victories against less competition is a positive sign for Phoenix.
So does the engaged play by Brittney Griner.
After an uneven performance in Mercury’s home win over the Dream this past weekend, Griner put on some impressive performances against the Fever and Mystics. She came on the line for 10 free kicks (and made nine) en route to 25 points against Indy. She then dominated DC with a double point of 30 points and 12 rebounds. She also added five assists, a steal and a block when she registered a game-high plus-minus of plus-23.
Griner has to go to work against Atlanta and take advantage of the too small dream in a way that she could not manage it last Sunday. If she does — and if the Mercury convincingly wins a fourth consecutive game, the MVP buzz for BG should increase as well.
Saturday night at 20:00 ET, the Chicago Sky welcomes the Minnesota Lynx into the Windy City (NBA TV).
After a two-game trip to Connecticut, the Lynx’s eight-match winning streak it seems like a distant memory because the sun has proven to be an excellent team both matches. A third consecutive loss is likely to permeate the Lynx’s alleged contender status.
There are also questions about the Sky’s championship upside down. Uneven play, combined with untimely injuries, still prevented Chicago from approaching their ceiling consistently.
Atlanta Dream (6-16) vs. Phoenix Mercury (12-10)
When: Saturday, August 21 at 12 noon ET
Where: Gateway Center @ College Park in Atlanta, GA
How to watch: ESPN2 or TSN3
Key to matching: Since the Olympic break, Sophie Cunningham has been playing some of the best ball in her WNBA career. In almost 24 minutes per game, she averaged 11 points, with a brilliantly effective field goal percentage of 81.6 percent. In the first half of the season, Cunningham played 16 minutes per game and scored 4.2 points with an effective field goal percentage of 49.2 percent. Although her current hot shooting is not sustainable, it seems that more playing time for Cunningham results in better play from her. As Phoenix has struggled in recent seasons to come up with a reliable reserve rotation, a small leap from Cunningham would be a significant value addition for Mercury, Saturday and during the second half of the season.
Dream Injury Report: Cheyenne Parker (out for season; personal), Chennedy Carter (out indefinitely; suspension)
Mercury Injury Report: Bria Hartley (indefinitely out; knee)
Highlight: Sophie burns and burns!
Chicago Sky (11-11) vs. Minnesota Lynx (13-9)
When: Saturday, 21 August at 20:00 ET
Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL
How to watch: NBA TV, CW 26 or SN1
Key to matching: The return to Connecticut was difficult for Napheesa Collier. The Sun trio of tall defenders in the vanguard in Jonquel Jones, Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner have attacked a battle with the former UConn Husky. Collier scored a season-high attempt with seven strokes on Tuesday and a season-low of six points. She was also a non-factor on the glass, getting only one rebound. On Thursday, she put in 11 points, though she shot 26.7 percent from the field. Like the Sun, the Sky is a top-three defense with several long-range defenders who could have the potential to make Collier difficult, especially if reigning DPOY Candace Parker, who suffered a single nod on Tuesday, is on the field. It will be interesting to see if head coach Cheryl Reeve applies any adjustment to help Collier rediscover an attacking rhythm.
Air Injury Report: Candace Parker (doubtful; single)
Lynx Injury Report: Aerial Powers (indefinitely out; inches), Rennia Davis (out of season; foot)