Formidable foe Phoenix awaits Lynx

Phoenix still can score, but it’s playing much better defense now.

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Brittney Griner, far left, and Diana Taurasi, far right, are a tough 1-2 punch for Phoenix.

Photo: Chuck Myers • MCT,

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Both teams are going through a difficult stretch. The Lynx have played four games in a row on the road, losing two, and are in the middle of a stretch in which they will play six games in 10 days. Phoenix will be playing its fifth consecutive road game Sunday, against the Lynx at Target Center, having lost two of their past four.

But don’t expect fatigue to be a factor Sunday.

In a nationally televised matinee, the two teams with perhaps the greatest expectations in the league this season will meet for the first time. The Lynx still are a league-best 8-2 after Friday’s rally in Atlanta fell just short. The Mercury is 6-3, tied for the second-best record in the league.

This is as intense a rivalry as the Lynx have, despite the fact that it has been so one-sided of late.

The Lynx have won 10 consecutive regular-season games vs. Phoenix, including all five last season. Minnesota has eliminated the Mercury in the Western Conference finals in two of the past three seasons.

Both teams have talent-laden rosters.

“This is going to give us a look at two of the best teams in the league,” ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said.

The Lynx have three No. 1 overall draft picks on their roster in Maya Moore, Janel McCarville and Seimone Augustus.

Phoenix has two in Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. The Mercury leads the league in scoring (84.6) and shooting (49.0), with the Lynx second in both categories (83.9 and 47.2).

But what has made Phoenix perhaps more dangerous is the defense it is playing under new head coach Sandy Brondello.

“In years past, they’ve been pretty good offensively,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “This year more so than last year. But, this year, more so than I can remember, they have a good combination of offense and defense.’’

The addition of Erin Phillips has given the Mercury a true point guard, enabling Taurasi to play more off-guard. Griner, in her second season, has taken a huge step. She is blocking more than three shots a game, averaging 15.6 points and shooting nearly 60 percent.

The Lynx spent some time Saturday reviewing tape of Friday’s loss in Atlanta. In general Reeve is pleased with the way her team has played through 10 games, with a chance to win each.

What Reeve stressed to the players was crisper execution on offense and for her top players to avoid falling into the mode where they feel they have to do things themselves. Moore, in particular, may be forcing things of late. Moore has averaged 11.3 points on 30.2 percent shooting in her past three games.

But forget about those numbers in this game. The rivalry has been feisty at times, including a game in the conference finals last season when Taurasi and Augustus got into a shoving match that ended with a much-publicized on-court kiss.

“Most of that is frustration for the Phoenix,” Robinson said. “[Taurasi] wants to win another championship in the worst way. This is an intense rivalry. Very intense.”

 

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    Tuesday May 27, 2014

  • Guard Seimone Augustus (shown in a May game at Washington) and the Lynx face Phoenix on Sunday at Target Center.

  • lynx gameday

    noon VS. phoenix • target center • espn2, 106.1-fm

    Lynx update: This is the first of four games vs. the Mercury, which might be the most intense rival the Lynx have. At least part of that is because of Minnesota’s recent dominance. Since late 2011, it seems as though the Lynx are the only team the Mercury can’t beat. Minnesota has won 10 in a row vs. Phoenix, 14 consecutive if the playoffs are included, by an average of 17.1 points There is a chance Monica Wright, who had offseason knee surgery, could make her season debut.

    Mercury update: Phoenix is coming off a one-point loss Thursday at Connecticut, dropping it to 3-2 on the road. Four players are scoring in double figures for the Mercury, led by G Diana Taurasi (18.0). Brittney Griner is averaging 15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocked shots per game; it will be difficult to control her without a healthy Rebekkah Brunson. The addition of point guard Erin Phillips has been big, enabling Taurasi to play the two-guard spot.

    Kent Youngblood

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