WNBA preview: Los Angeles Sparks vs. Phoenix Mercury

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18: Brittney Griner
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18: Brittney Griner /

Second ranked Los Angeles Sparks travel to Arizona to face the Phoenix Mercury in hopes of going 3-0 against them this season.  With a healthy Brittney Griner, the Mercury look to get the win and become one step closer to a higher seed.

Phoenix Mercury


The Phoenix Mercury has recorded a 15-15 record on the season thus far. Their .500 showing is good enough to notch sixth place in league standings as of today.

Similar to more than a few teams in the league this year, the Mercury has been plagued with injuries. Brittney Griner, starting center, missed four weeks due to a left knee bone bruise and a sprained right ankle. Her August 12 game comeback against the Seattle Storm was not in her favor, resulting in a 89-98 loss.

Since the return of Griner, the Mercury are 1-3.  Two of the four games were against the top ranked Minnesota Lynx and the number three Connecticut Sun.

Mercury Head Coach Sandy Brondello uses the past few games as an assessment of the team’s consistency and playoff preparation. “The last few games [have] just gotten away from us,” she explained on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.  “Other teams are playing more physical with a sense of urgency.”

PHOENIX, AZ – JULY 12: Head Coach Sandy Brondello
PHOENIX, AZ – JULY 12: Head Coach Sandy Brondello /

Urgency and consistency are key in closing out the season.  Only two games separate teams ranking sixth through eighth and it is no secret each team in the top eight are fighting for the highest seed possible. Coach Brondello explained she is “just looking for [Phoenix] to play a bit more consistent basketball than [they] have in the past few games.”

Now that Griner’s size and skill are back in rotation, she will provide the presence in the paint that Phoenix has been missing. “Teams didn’t see me [in the paint]…and guards went inside and got the basket,” Griner recapped what happened in her absence. “If I could’ve stood out there with my boot on, I would’ve!”

Griner leads the league in points (21.0) and blocks (2.5) per game.  With a healthy Griner, and a refreshed outlook on the few games in rest of the season, Phoenix can very well make a playoff run.

Phoenix’s mentality has been called into question.  Brondello responded with a simple solution. “We realize we need to work harder.”

Griner backed Brondello’s emphasis on hard work and insisted the concept will register right on time. “Last year, we didn’t have the best year but once playoffs hit, we came up with wins. We have to have that same mindset and just go do it.”

ST. PAUL, MN – AUGUST 22: Brittney Griner
ST. PAUL, MN – AUGUST 22: Brittney Griner /

The Mercury have no choice but to “just go do it,” against a 22-8 Sparks team.  Brondello gave credit to the Sparks’ well-rounded lineup.  “[The Sparks are] versatile…physical…and dominant in the paint.” She also hinted at their “wide range of scoring options” with Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Simms and Alana Beard being “one of the best defensive players in the league.” However, Brondello “still believe[s] in [her] team,” assuring that on “any given day, [they] can beat anyone.”

Griner emphasized her keys to success in tonight’s game. “We’re just going to have to take care of the ball and be smart with it. We can’t give them easy buckets. We have to be locked in.”

Los Angeles Sparks

ROSEMONT, IL – AUGUST 18: Los Angeles Sparks
ROSEMONT, IL – AUGUST 18: Los Angeles Sparks /

The Los Angeles Sparks are a force. They are currently in the number two spot, at 22-8, only 1.5 games behind the Minnesota Lynx.  After a 69-83 loss to the New York Liberty on August 13, the Sparks seem hungrier than ever, winning three games straight, including a 33-point blowout against the Washington Mystics.

Offensively, Chelsea Gray’s league-leading three point percentage (.480) and Nneka Ogwumike’s 19.2 points per game make the team dangerous in both the backcourt and frontcourt.  Alana Beard is in the top spot for steals (2.1 per game), so LA does not lack defense either.

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 16: Chelsea Gray
WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 16: Chelsea Gray /

Candace Parker also adds her own unique veteran presence  to the floor and on any given night can have a dynamic performance. Parker has scored in double figures in 27 of 29 games this season. On July 28, she became the sixth player in the league’s history to record a triple-double against San Antonio.

Tonight’s match

Despite winning both games against Phoenix earlier in the season with a healthy Griner in rotation, Los Angeles must not underestimate their opponent. Griner assured that she is “feeling better each game,” and tough competitor Diana Taurasi has the capability to ground the team with veteran experience and desire to win. The game could very well swing in Phoenix’s favor.

Though true, Los Angeles is aware of their minor separation from the Lynx and can use that as an incentive to win. The Phoenix/Los Angeles game will be a battle of versatility and mentality.

In a matchup racked with all-stars, the ending result is unpredictable.  Tonight’s game will be aired on ESPN2 at 9pm ET.