Both the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever have overcome early adversity to establish themselves as playoff contenders.
Two of the WNBA’s hottest teams since the All-Star break look to keep rolling when they face off Sunday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Phoenix (15-8) went 3-4 while navigating Brittney Griner’s season-opening suspension for a domestic violence arrest, but has won 12 of 16 since to comfortably hold second place in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games behind Minnesota. The Mercury moved to 6-1 following the break with Wednesday’s 83-66 win over Seattle.
Indiana (13-9) has won five of six since the break and 10 of 13. Among the most impressive of those victories came Tuesday in Washington, where the Fever rallied from a 12-point second-quarter deficit for a 73-62 triumph that pulled them even with the Mystics for third place in the East.
Scoring leader Tamika Catchings sparked the comeback by netting 14 of her 20 points in the second half. The perennial All-Star added six rebounds to tie Tina Thompson for second on the WNBA’s all-time list with 3,070.
The Fever evened the season series with the Mystics and avenged a 68-50 defeat at Washington on July 17 in which Catchings was held to two points.
"I looked at this game like a playoff game," Catchings told the Fever’s official website. "We left here with a bad taste in our mouths the last time."
Catchings delivered season highs of 27 points and 13 rebounds in Indiana’s 77-74 home win over the Mercury on June 12, which halted a four-game series losing streak.
The task figures to be tougher on Sunday, as Griner was unavailable for the first matchup and the Mercury are 10-2 at home – though both losses came to Eastern Conference clubs.
Phoenix notched its fourth straight home win Wednesday despite Griner being held to a season-low four points due to foul trouble. Her struggles were offset by a strong performance from the Mercury bench, as Phoenix’s reserves outscored the Storm’s 47-29.
Noelle Quinn hit three 3-pointers while recording a season-high 13 points and Mistie Bass grabbed 10 rebounds subbing for Griner, who played just 19 minutes.
"We didn’t want to overplay anyone and it was good to get some confidence with our bench because going forward, you’re going to need all 11 healthy players that we have," coach Sandy Brondello told the team’s official website.
Leilani Mitchell had only two points in 16 minutes against Seattle but scored a season-high 25 while going 7 of 10 from 3-point range against Indiana in June. Candice Dupree had 21 points in the first meeting.
Dupree has shot 37.1 percent over Phoenix’s last three games after averaging 23.7 points on 65.9 percent shooting over her previous three.