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Diana Taurasi and the surging Phoenix Mercury have shown tremendous improvement on the defensive end under interim coach Russ Pennell.

They haven't been able to slow down the Seattle Storm this year.

Seeking a fifth win in six games, the Mercury try to avoid a four-game season sweep to the visiting Storm on Friday night.

While Phoenix (14-12) is allowing 82.0 points per game to rank last in the league, it has surrendered an average of 69.8 in winning four of five with Pennell at the helm. The Mercury weren't as stifling Tuesday but still managed to pull out an 89-86 win at Tulsa.

"We play best when our defense is good because it fuels our offense," Pennell told the team's official website. "As I told the ladies in there, when you win a basketball game sometimes you will have to win it a little ugly at the end.

"If we can learn to play for longer stretches on the defensive end, I think this team has a chance to go a long way."

The Mercury could certainly afford to pick up the pace against the Storm (12-13), who have taken 10 of 12 regular-season matchups in the series dating to 2011. Seattle has averaged 81.0 points in three meetings this season, most recently cruising to an 80-65 victory in Phoenix on Aug. 6 behind 19 points apiece from Tina Thompson and Tanisha Wright.

Seattle held Taurasi to nine points on 2-of-11 shooting in that game. Taurasi, averaging 21.4 points to rank second in the league, has been limited to a combined 29 against the Storm this year.

"Our concentration, first, primarily, is Diana," Thompson said after the matchup earlier this month. "She's just that much of a weapon just for her team. We kind of concentrate on her and not let her get comfortable."

Taurasi is coming off one of her better all-around efforts, posting 28 points and 10 assists Tuesday.

"She does things so quietly then you look at the stat sheet and see that she has 28 points," Pennell said. "Male or female, I have never been around a competitor like her. Diana is fiery but she is all about the team. She is just a phenomenal player."

Candice Dupree also came up big against the Shock with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while star rookie Brittney Griner added 15 and 10.

The Storm are seeking a season high-tying third consecutive win after blowing out Los Angeles 77-57 on Tuesday. Temeka Johnson had 18 points and Thompson added 17 and 10 boards for Seattle, which is fourth in the Western Conference and 1 1/2 games behind Phoenix.

"It's playoff time," Johnson said. "Our mindset has changed."

The Storm have won five of their last seven against teams in the playoff picture.

"The playoff teams, we match up very well against them," Thompson said. "Our personnel is very similar to those teams (with winning records), and I really think it's the matchups more than anything."



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