One reason the Phoenix Mercury has improved under interim head coach Russ Pennell’s tenure has nothing to do with schemes. It appears the Mercury players bought into him as a leader before diving into the X’s and O’s.

Mercury star Diana Taurasi talked about that after the Mercury’s shootaround this morning, when asked if this was a different team than the one that lost all five games with the Lynx this season.

“This is pretty much the same team we had before,” Taurasi said. “Same players. Just a little different philosophy, different focus on certain areas. We’re turned it around a little bit. It took us a little bit longer than everyone expected. But we feel good about where we are now.’’

Pennell’s biggest influence has been on defense. As in, he has had the Mercury actually play some.

“It’s like anything,” Taurasi said. “When you focus and concentrate on certain things, they get taken care of a little bit more. It’s a different philosophy and we’ve gravitated to it a little bit.”

Here are some other thoughts from the two shootarounds this morning:

--Janel McCarville and Rebekkah Brunson both talked about making sure Mercury center Brittney Griner has to work for everything they get. The key is keeping her from getting the ball where she’s comfortable.

“You just want to make everything as difficult for her as possible,’’ McCarville said. “She gets good position, finds her comfort zone? Things will be tough for us.”

--It’s just a feeling, but I think Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen might be in for a big series. She’s at her best in more up-tempo games, and the series with Seattle was a bump-and-grind affair.

--I think that, while Taurasi is Job 1 when it comes to defending Phoenix, much of Phoenix’s fortunes will be in DeWanna Bonner’s hands.

--One last thing. I noticed recently a little ritual McCarville does before every game. Standing at the scorer’s table, she will take some of the resin players use to improve their grip and pour the powder onto the table. Then she’ll spread it out. And then, using her index finger, she will write her autograph.

“It’s my signature, JM4,” she said. “I’ve done it for years.”

--Here's one more note: USA basketball just announced the list of 33 players who have accepted an invitationto attend the 2013 USA Women's National Team mini-camp Oct. 4-6 on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus. (Those playing in the WNBA finals, of course, are excused). It is from this 33-player pool that the 2014 world championship team will be selected. 

Among those 33 are Lynx players Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Monica Wright. Mercury playes Bonner, Griner, Taurasi and Candice Dupree have also been invited. 

That’s about it for now. I’ll get back to you before the game. 

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Lynx have had plenty of time to prepare for Phoenix