Short-handed Mercury take on streaking Sparks
By KATE HEDLIN
The Phoenix Mercury couldn't keep up with the Los Angeles Sparks last month - and that was with Diana Taurasi in the lineup.
With Taurasi day to day because of a left hip flexor strain, the visiting Mercury could be short-handed Friday night when they try to end the Sparks' three-game winning streak.
Los Angeles (5-1) won 99-88 in Phoenix on May 26 as Candace Parker had 27 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. Sparks rookie Nneka Ogwumike added 22 points.
Taurasi scored 18 for the Mercury (2-4), but she hasn't played since. The WNBA's defending scoring champion is out indefinitely, having played just two games this season.
Phoenix is 1-3 without Taurasi and could have trouble improving that record against a Los Angeles team which is quickly gaining confidence behind Parker and Ogwumike.
Since their win over the Mercury, the Sparks have pulled out two nail-biters - 76-75 over Tulsa on May 29 and 67-65 over Seattle on Sunday. After Kristi Toliver hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer against the Shock, Ogwumike scored with 2.5 seconds left to lift Los Angeles over the Storm.
Ogwumike, the top overall pick in this year's draft, leads all rookies with 13.2 points per game and is second among first-year players with 5.7 rebounds per game.
"Nneka's one of those players that she's going to bring a lot of energy and she's going to do a lot of things that don't really show up on the stat sheet," Parker said. "I think that's the key about her."
Parker has posted three straight double-doubles for Los Angeles, which hasn't won four in a row since September 2009.
Phoenix's only two victories have come against Tulsa - the league's only winless team - and its four losses have all been by double-digit margins.
The Mercury snapped a three-game losing streak with a 79-72 win over the Shock on Sunday despite nearly blowing a 12-point lead in the third quarter.
DeWanna Bonner finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds while rookie Sammy Prahalis added 19 points and six assists. She converted a late three-point play after Tulsa pulled within 69-66.
Bonner averaged 20.7 points and 10.7 rebounds in three games last week to earn Western Conference player of the week. A three-time Sixth Woman of the Year, Bonner has moved into a starting role this season because of injuries.
"DeWanna has stepped up," coach Corey Gaines said. "She's playing four positions right now."
Besides being without Taurasi, the Mercury also are playing without Penny Taylor (torn ACL). Bonner said it's like undergoing training camp all over again as the team tries to adjust to a new look.
"We've got to find ourselves without them," Bonner said. "We've had to start from the beginning."
The Mercury lost both visits to Staples Center last year.