It took a little time, but the Phoenix Mercury are right up there with the best in the WNBA thus far on this unique and condensed season. That includes the Seattle Storm.
The surging Mercury look for a fifth straight victory on Saturday at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla, against the Storm, who are aiming to win their fourth in a row.
While some felt there was cause for concern after Phoenix started 0-2, team members and staff continued to insist it was only a matter of time before things got better. With Skylar Diggins-Smith (14.5 points per game) and veteran free agent Bria Hartley (team-leading 18.2 ppg) joining fellow stars Brittney Griner (17.5 ppg, 7.0 rebounds per game) and Diana Taurasi (17.3 ppg, 6.0 assists per game), there were chemistry issues that needed to be ironed out.
Those issues appear to be gone after the Mercury (4-2) extended their winning streak to four games with a 96-86 triumph over the equally talented Chicago Sky on Thursday. Taurasi and Griner scored 22 apiece while Diggins-Smith and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough each had 17 points as the Mercury used a 24-2 first-quarter spurt to essentially take control.
Phoenix, which leads the WNBA averaging 91.8 points, shot 52.5 percent from the floor and went 10 of 19 from 3-point range.
"We have so many great pieces on this team," Walker-Kimbrough told the Arizona Republic. "We're basically a brand new team, so it's just going out and doing what you do best."
Phoenix's improvement will be put to a serious test against Seattle (5-1), which entered Friday's play atop the WNBA standings and took two of three in this series last season. That 2019 series success came without Breanna Stewart (20.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Sue Bird (10.7 ppg, 3.3 ppg) on the floor for the Storm.
However, it's uncertain if Bird will be available as she deals with a bruised knee. Her absence did not keep the Storm from pulling out a 93-92 win over Atlanta on Thursday. Stewart had 27 points and Jewell Lloyd (12.8 ppg) scored 20 as Seattle led 31-16 after one quarter, but had to hold off a pesky Dream squad that shot almost 46 percent and got 35 from rookie guard Chennedy Carter.
"We were a little bit sluggish in the second half and that's something we got to fix going into the next game," guard Jordin Canada, who had 14 points, six assists and three steals in place of Bird.Canada has averaged 14.7 points in the last three games, and totaled 12 assists in the last two.