Even though the Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury met on the same KeyArena court less than a week ago, don't expect tonight's Game 1 of the teams' Western Conference Semifinals series to necessarily follow the same script.
For one, each of the 11 games the two teams have played the last two seasons has been unique. Beyond that, the return of Penny Taylor makes the Mercury a stronger team than a week ago. Phoenix did not want to rush Taylor's return from back spasms. Now nearly two weeks removed from her last game, Taylor should be ready to go.
Taylor's presence only makes Phoenix a more dangerous team. Taylor is often overshadowed by teammate Diana Taurasi, but nearly became the first player in WNBA history to average 15 points, five rebounds and five assists per game.
With Taylor, the Mercury should have more balance than on Friday night. Despite 36 points from Taurasi - the most scored against the Storm this season - Phoenix rang up just 70 as a team, tying a season low. In four head-to-head meetings, Taurasi has averaged 29.3 points, more than double anyone else on the Mercury (Candice Dupree is next at 12.5 ppg). Is the Storm willing to concede points to Taurasi to shut down everything else?
"Sometimes, it looks that way, doesn't it?" joked Head Coach Brian Agler. "No, we don't want that to happen, obviously. We try to guard everything, but sometimes when you're playing against a player like her and you give her a lot of space, she can ring up a lot of points. She's one of the best.
"Part of the problem with her is they've got other good players around her, so you can't totally focus on her because they've got the Duprees and the Taylors and the Bonners and the Johnsons that have the ability to score. If you try to eliminate what Taurasi does, you're going to sacrifice giving up a lot to other people."
The Storm anticipates a relatively similar gameplan. Down in Phoenix, meanwhile, the Mercury hopes to unveil something new tonight.
"Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. Their greatest strength is their defense," Phoenix Head Coach Corey Gaines told SB Nation Arizona. "If your defense is set and does the same thing every time then you know exactly where they're going to be and what they're going to do then you can get some easy shots out of it."
For the Storm, two factors stand out as keys. One is taking care of the basketball. The Storm finished 13-1 in the regular season when turning the ball over 15 times or fewer. Seattle should also be able to take advantage of its superiority on the glass to slow down the Mercury and create some transition opportunities.
"We have to control the backboard," said Swin Cash, who has grabbed 29 rebounds the last two head-to-head meetings. "That's very important. A team like Phoenix that loves to score, you've got to keep them off the glass offensively. For us, it's one shot and get out in transition. That's where we're able to get easy baskets by pushing the ball."
The ability of Storm forward Camille Little to finish around the basket could be crucial in this series. Because the Mercury tends to switch pick-and-rolls, Little often finds herself defend by a smaller opponent, creating opportunities in the paint. Her 13.8 points per game against Phoenix ranked third on the Storm this season. Little had a rougher time of things inside last Friday, missing 12 of her 15 shot attempts. She bounced back with one of her best efforts on Sunday against Chicago, finishing with 17 points and a career-high five assists. Dupree is one of the league's best around the rim and has thrived in Phoenix as part of the two-woman game with either Taurasi or Taylor.
Storm - Center Lauren Jackson (recovery from hip surgery) is probable.