By Alex Chambers, June 2016 Issue.
Back on Feb. 26, 2015, I left you all with this quote: “Phoenix Mercury fans need to have faith. Taurasi will return.”
As promised, she’s back at the helm of the Mercury this season in her quest for a fourth championship. However, getting to that championship could look a bit different this year.
In years past, the Mercury played the regular season to get seeded for the playoffs; this was calculated against other Western conference teams. Then, the Mercury would enter the playoffs to play the best of the Western conference, and if successful, would advance to the Finals to square off against an Eastern conference team. That is the way the post season has functioned since the leagues inception in 1997; however, in this past off-season, the league had some new ideas.
For the 2016 season, the top eight teams will qualify for the playoffs. That’s the top eight teams in the entire league – conference is no longer a factor. Also, now there are four rounds in the playoffs as opposed to three. The first and second rounds are single elimination. So, each team in the first and second around has one shot to stay alive in the post-season. Now, both the semi-finals (which used to be only three games), as well as the Finals, feature a best-of-five format.
What does this all mean? Well, the Mercury will need to fight hard all season against the entire league, not just the Western conference. The higher they rank, the higher they’ll get seeded, which increases the team’s chances of making it to the Finals. If the team gets ranked between 5th and 8th overall, they’ll have one chance to keep their post-season dreams alive. So, this season, no games are a “given” – every win counts.
Without a doubt, the Mercury has an uphill battle to fight this year. For a team that thrives on adversity and challenge, that is actually good news. Even more good news is the starting set that brought home the championship trophy in 2014 – DeWanna Bonner, Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree and Brittney Griner – will be joining Taurasi in the teams quest for a fourth championship.
Keep in mind that the only team in WNBA history to claim four championships is the now defunct, yet legendary, Houston Comets. From 1997 to 2000, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson reigned supreme and shut out all competition to establish the WNBA’s first dynasty by winning four back-to-back titles.
Does the Mercury have a chance to win a fourth championship title and become the league’s next dynasty? There are five reasons to believe the answer is yes: the five starting players that led the team to the record setting 29-5 season in 2014 who will be back on the court this season.
5. Candice Dupree
With the smoothest shot in the league and moves like a ninja, Dupree can make the bucket before the other team even knows what happening. Dupree shot 75 percent during the Finals in 2014, proving that in the most important games, she is the dependable player you want at the ready. In a 2016 season, where every game counts, the Mercury is fortunate to have Dupree as a weapon in their arsenal.
4. Penny Taylor
Following Taurasi’s lead, Taylor took 2015 off, but is now back for 2016. This tough-as-nails Aussie was a member of the squad that brought home the trophy in 2007, 2009 and 2014. With this type of championship experience, her veteran skills will be much appreciated this season. Combine that with her uncanny ability to bring out the best in the other members of her team, and you’ve got a recipe for victory.
3. DeWanna Bonner
As a player who started coming off the bench when she joined the Mercury in 2009, Bonner quickly earned her place in the starting five – and for good reason. This three-time sixth woman of the year knows how to step up when she is needed.
In 2012, when the team was plagued with injuries, Bonner led the Western conference in scoring with 20.6 points per game, and became a shining star in the Mercury lineup during a rather dismal season for the team as a whole.
2. Brittney Griner
The dominant defense Griner brings to the paint will once again plague visiting teams. As a two- time defensive player of the year, Griner will be protecting the rim and keeping competitors at bay when she’s not going up for a dunk – something Phoenix fans have become quite accustomed to since she was drafted No. 1 overall in 2013. Heading in to her fourth season, the young player is hungry for another championship and will be instrumental in bringing home another trophy.
1. Diana Taurasi
Last, but certainly not least, is Taurasi. The prodigal player who everyone missed last season will be back on the court and ready to play. Leaving the cold winds of Russia behind her, Taurasi comes home to the Valley of the Sun in search of the one thing that has driven her for her entire career: victory. No matter if it is a familiar rival or a new foe that stands between her and a fourth title, Taurasi will bring the skill, fight and grit that Phoenix fans have come to know and love.
Because the final roster has not been set, the remainder of the team is still unclear. One thing that is certain, the Phoenix Mercury is on the cusp of becoming the second dynasty team in the WNBA, and with the talent of their starting line-up, their chances are better than ever.
For more on Mercury stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, as they prepare to join Team USA for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, click here.
2016 Phoenix Mercury Schedule
The three-time WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury, presented by Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort, kicked off the 2015 regular season May 14 in Minnesota. The team’s home opener against Seattle will take place May 20 at 7 p.m.
In its final game before the WNBA’s a month-long break to accommodate the Summer Games, the team will face Chicago July 19 at home. Regular season play will resume Aug. 26 at home against Dallas.
For tickets, visit phoenixmercury.com or call 602-252-WNBA.
Fri 20 Seattle 7 p.m.
Wed 25 Minnesota 7 p.m.
Sun 29 Washington 3 p.m.
Tue 31 Connecticut 7 p.m.
Fri 3 @ Seattle 7 p.m.
Tue 7 @ Minnesota 5 p.m.
Thurs 9 San Antonio 7 p.m.
Sun 12 Chicago 3 p.m.
Fri 17 @ Los Angeles 7:30 p.m.
Sat 18 Dallas 7 p.m.
Tue 21 @ Dallas 5 p.m.
Fri 24 @Washington 4 p.m.
Wed 29 Connecticut 7 p.m.
Fri 1 New York 7 p.m.
Sun 3 @ Atlanta 3 p.m.
Tue 5 @ Dallas 5:30 p.m.
Fri 8 Indiana 7 p.m.
Sun 10 @ Chicago 3 p.m.
Wed 13 Washington 12:30 p.m.
Tue. 16 San Antonio 7 p.m.
Tue. 19 Chicago 7 p.m.
Aug. 5-21: Summer Olympic, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Fri. 26 Dallas 7 p.m.
Sun 28 Los Angeles 6 p.m.
Tue 30 @ Indiana 4 p.m.
Fri 2 @ Connecticut 4 p.m.
Sat 3 @ New York 3 p.m.
Tue 6 @ Atlanta 4 p.m.
Sun 11 Atlanta 3 p.m.
Tue 13 @ Los Angeles 7:30 p.m.
Thurs 15 Seattle 7 p.m.
Sun 18 @ San Antonio 1:30 p.m.
(Bold indicates home games.)