Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Storm vs. Mercury Preview

It is no secret that the defending champions have struggled at the start of the 2008 season. Not since LA won back to back championships in 2001-2002 has a team been able to repeat in consecutive seasons. Detroit has made it to the finals three times since then, 2003, 2006 and 2007 but only won two of those. League parity has made repeating a tough prospect with both conferences grabbing victories during the interval. In my season preview I had Phoenix struggling with the loss of power forward, Penny Taylor. They have indeed struggled, finally earning a pair of back to back wins against the Mystics and the Sparks.

Looking at the box scores, there is not a lot to tell you what the difference is between the wins. Scoring has ranged in both their wins and losses, with consistently strong scoring from team leaders, Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter. While the individual person has changed, the Mercury have consistently had a third scorer in the starting lineup and bench play has been erratic across both the victories and defeats. Rebounding isn't the answer, they have lost when leading that category and won when losing it. The Mercury did move rookie guard Yuko Oga to the end of the bench and have brought veteran guard Jen Derevjanik (who did not play in the first four games) in to substitute for Kelly Miller in the past two games.

The one clear cut difference between the Mecury wins and their differences has been free throws. In their two victories they got to the line more often (50-36) than their opponents. In their four losses, the opponent got to the foul line more often (126-75). The Mercury's defense has either gotten tighter so as to avoid fouling, or the referees are adjusting to their style of play. They are getting to the line a little bit more, but as they have cut back on sending the opponent to the line, they have shifted to winning. During their four losses, the Mercury had an average of 18.5 free throw attempts while allowing their opponents and average of 31. In the past two victories, the Mercury have averaged 25 free throws while holding their opponents to an average of 18. That is a swing of 20 potential points and has meant putting W's in the win/loss column for the Mercury.

Keys to the Game
  • Get to the line. Force Phoenix to foul you. Play an aggressive low post game with your bigs. Run the guards off screens. Milk the half court offense when you can't get a fast break, force Phoenix to play lots of defense.
  • Seattle has better rebounders in the front court than Phoenix, use that to control the offensive boards and force their defenders to try going over the back for more fouls.
  • Lauren Jackson. Get her the ball on the block. Phoenix has never been able to defend her, and she will draw the rover from Phoenix's zone off Cash or Swoopes leaving them open for mid and long range shots.
  • Sue often plays well agains Phoenix, and Swin should show her former coach he should have played her more in last year's finals.


  • Le'Coe Willingham is a solid offensive rebounder. Box her out and keep her off the boards. She is not trying to score, but is waiting to put back missed shots by Taurasi and Pondexter.
  • Defend and pressure Miller, she is the engine for the "Paul Ball" style of basketball the Mercury play.
  • Keep Taurasi and Pondexter out of the paint. They are both going to score 20+ points anyway, but make them do it on 25-30% shooting rather than on layups.
  • DON'T FOUL!!!! Yolanda may need to sit more not only because of the pace the Mercury play at, but because she is fouling too frequently in the past few games based on the way the officials are calling the game this season.

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