Mercury-Storm breakdown

Posted: Sept. 1

AP Sports Writer

A look at the best-of-three WNBA Western Conference finals, which starts Thursday:

No. 1 Seattle (28-6) vs. No. 2 Phoenix (15-19)

Season series: Storm won 5-0.

Seattle: After tying the league record for victories — set by Los Angeles in 2001 and 2001 when teams played a 32-game schedule, the Storm swept the Sparks in the first round. Seattle won the opener at home by 13 points, then closed it out with a 15-point win at Los Angeles for their first postseason series victory since winning the WNBA title in 2004. They had lost in the first round in each year since — including the last two years against the Sparks. Seattle got off to such a dominant start, it clinched the top seed in the West on July 27 with 11 games remaining. The Storm won 22 of their first 24 games before losing four of their last 10 while allowing key players to rest. Seattle also set a league record for home victories, finishing 17-0. Lauren Jackson (20.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Sue Bird (11.1 ppg, 5.8 apg), in their ninth season together, are the lone holdovers from the championship team. Swin Cash (13.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg), in her third season in Seattle, averaged 18.0 points in the opening-round series and gives the team a formidable trio. Camille Little (10.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Tanisha Wright (9.2 ppg, 4.5 apg) round out the Storm’s starting five. Svetlana Abrosimova (7.6 ppg) and Le’coe Willingham (5.5 ppg) are key veteran reserves. The Storm were third in the league in scoring (81.8) and rebounding (36.3) during the regular season, second in scoring defense (73.9) and 3-point shooting (37 percent) and fifth in overall field-goal shooting (45 percent). Four of the five regular-season meetings were decided by six points or fewer.

Phoenix: Following their second WNBA title in three years, the Mercury sent Cappie Pondexter to New York in a three-team deal that brought Candice Dupree from Chicago. Phoenix struggled for consistency and finished with an eight-win dropoff from a year ago. The Mercury lost six of their last seven but still managed to finish second in a conference where only league-leading Seattle had a winning record. Phoenix then swept San Antonio in the first round, winning both games by double digits and beating the Silver Stars in the playoffs for the third time in four years. The previous two times — 2007 and 2009 — the Mercury went on to win the WNBA championship. Once again, Phoenix’s high-octane offense is led by Diana Taurasi (22.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.7 apg), who won her third straight scoring title. Penny Taylor (15.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.0 apg) and Dupree (15.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg) were 11th and 12th in scoring, respectively, and DeWanna Bonner (12.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) had a strong second season to earn the league’s Sixth Woman of the Year honors for the second straight year. Kara Braxton, acquired from Tulsa in a late-season trade, averaged 11.1 ppg and 4.8 rpg to give the Mercury a fifth double-figure scorer as a backup at center to Tangela Smith (9.9 ppg, 5.2 apg). Temeka Johnson ran the point and added 9.2 ppg, 4.7 apg. Phoenix led the league in scoring (93.9 ppg), field-goal shooting (47.3 percent), free-throw shooting (85 percent) and assists (20.2). Bonner averaged 18.3 ppg in the first four meetings against the Storm.