Playoff-bound Mercury still have shot at West title
The Phoenix Mercury are in the playoffs, though a chance at a second straight Western Conference regular-season title seems to be slipping away.
They'll try to avoid losing further ground to the Minnesota Lynx when the West's top teams square off on FOX Sports Arizona at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Phoenix (15-11) enters this marquee matchup on a season-high three-game losing streak that includes two defeats at home, where the Mercury had been 10-2 before falling to Indiana and Los Angeles.
Slow starts have plagued the Mercury throughout the skid, and they never overcame an eight-point halftime deficit in Friday's 78-68 loss to the Sparks.
"Teams are just outplaying us at the moment," coach Sandy Brondello said. "Once again, we started out without the necessary energy, and that is a concern for me. The second half, I thought we played with a little bit more intent and played a little harder. But we've got to do it for 40 minutes."
The Mercury haven't dropped four straight in a season since losing the final seven of the 2012 campaign.
Phoenix still managed to clinch a playoff berth Friday in spite of the outcome. That's because Minnesota (19-8) posted a 78-61 win at fifth-place San Antonio that night, moving 3 1/2 games ahead of the Mercury.
Maya Moore scored 10 of her 18 points during a 19-0 third-quarter run that helped the Lynx pull away and bounce back from being swept in a home-and-home series with Washington.
"I've got really, really, good leaders and they get re-centered," coach Cheryl Reeve said. "They understand what happened and how to fix it."
Moore got untracked after going 6 for 25 from the field in the two Washington losses. The reigning MVP was held to 17 points in each of the Lynx's two previous visits to Phoenix this season, both Minnesota defeats.
Including last year's West finals, the Mercury have won six straight over the Lynx at Talking Stick Resort Arena and five of the last seven matchups overall. The teams will meet again Aug. 30 in Minneapolis, where the Lynx posted a 71-56 win June 27.
Phoenix's DeWanna Bonner has averaged 18.3 points in the season series, and Brittney Griner amassed 13 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks in a 73-66 win over Minnesota on Aug. 7 in the most recent matchup. Griner finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting Friday after totaling 25 over the previous three games.
Minnesota played Friday without veteran guard Seimone Augustus, who sprained her ankle Wednesday in her third game back after missing 10 recovering from knee surgery.