By Matthew Roberson
Hoping to end its five-game road trip on a high note, the Seattle Storm (10-16) rolls in to Phoenix for a high-stakes matchup against the Phoenix Mercury (14-12). The game is set for 7 p.m. PDT on Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
This is Seattle’s first trip to Phoenix in 2017 and the 35th time in the franchise history. With every game’s importance heightened down the stretch as the Storm pushes for the playoffs, the team is in desperate need of a momentum-boosting win. Seattle has lost four in a row and six of its last seven, resulting in a fall to 10th in the WNBA standings. The only previous matchup between these teams this season occurred on June 23 at KeyArena. Breanna Stewart mustered 21 points and eight rebounds in the Storm’s 85-82 loss. Jewell Loyd had 18 points and six assists on 7-for-17 shooting, while Sue Bird notched 14 points and eight assists. Entering play on Saturday, Bird is a mere 31 assists shy of passing Ticha Penicheiro for the WNBA’s all-time record.
Although Seattle has lost four consecutive games, there are several bright spots in an otherwise stormy sky. Loyd is averaging 19 points per game over the last four and is shooting 37.9 percent (11-for-29) on three’s. Two of the team’s reserves have also exploded in recent games to give the team instant offense off the bench.
In Tuesday’s loss in Connecticut, forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis knocked home a season-high 15 points, 13 of which came in the first half. Seattle’s third-year player out of UCONN shot 6-for-9 from the floor, including 3-for-4 from distance. This marked the second time in a week that a Storm player outside the starting five reached double-digit scoring numbers. Sami Whitcomb saw 21 minutes of action in Seattle’s loss to San Antonio on Saturday, and the rookie responded with 11 points while delivering five rebounds, four assists and three steals. After not playing at all in the first half, Whitcomb posted an 11 +/- rating, the highest of any Storm player in that game.
AT A GLANCE: MERCURY
After starting the season 11-6, the Mercury has cooled off recently, as the team now finds itself hovering around .500. Phoenix is 3-6 in its last nine outings and has surrendered an average of over 85 points per game during that stretch. Losses in Washington and Connecticut last weekend dropped Phoenix to sixth in the league standings.
Phoenix’s roster includes two of the unquestioned stars of the WNBA. Point guard Diana Taurasi and center Brittney Griner have been two of the most visible players in the league for the entirety of this decade. While Griner has been shelved since July 14 with a bone bruise in her left knee, Taurasi has continued putting her touch on Phoenix’s offense. The WNBA’s all-time leader in points is averaging 19 per game this season while drilling 38.9 percent of her three-point attempts.
Outside of Taurasi and Griner (who was averaging 22.3 points per game at the time of her injury), the Mercury has struggled to find consistent sources of offense. Monique Currie checks in at 10.1 points per game, making her the only Phoenix player outside its big two with a double-digit scoring average. Currie has topped 10 points in eight of Phoenix’s last nine performances.
The Storm boasts a 38-28 record against Phoenix in the teams’ 17 years of battle against one another. Seattle is an even 17-17 in games played in Arizona, but just 1-6 since 2014.
The June 23 rumble between the Storm and Mercury featured several notable moments. Griner threw down her ninth career dunk before an awestruck Seattle crowd. Taurasi launched a career-high 17 treys, making six of them. These longtime Western Conference adversaries will meet once more before the regular season is out. Circle Sunday, Aug. 27 on the calendar as a pivotal date for both teams, as playoff positioning will certainly be on the line during that game at KeyArena.
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