The Dallas Wings fell apart before the month-long Olympic break, losing their last six games and seeing forward Glory Johnson, their best rebounder and defender, go down with an injury.
The Wings hope to get Johnson back and begin turning things around Friday, when they head to Phoenix to take on Diana Taurasi and the high-scoring Mercury.
Dallas (9-16) has won all the meetings with Phoenix this season, including a 77-74 win at home on July 5. However, in the Wings' next game, Johnson sustained a broken toe, and she sat out the final five games prior to the break, all losses.
Johnson returned to practice last week, and she could play Friday. The undersized Wings will need her.
Johnson is averaging 13.2 points and 9.8 rebounds. Her presence would be helpful Friday to contend with the Mercury's frontcourt, featuring Olympian Brittney Griner, Johnson's former spouse. Griner stands 6-foot-9; no Dallas player is taller than 6-6. Griner leads the Mercury in rebounding and is tops in the WNBA with 73 blocks.
Phoenix (10-14) is in eighth place in the league standings. The top eight teams, regardless of conference, qualify for the postseason.
Dallas sits in 11th place out of 12 teams but is only 1 1/2 games behind Phoenix. The Wings are in their first season in Texas after relocating from Tulsa in the offseason.
Taurasi, after spending last season playing overseas, leads five Mercury players averaging in double figures at 18.9 points per game. DeWanna Bonner (15.9), Griner (13.5), Penny Taylor (13.3) and Candice Dupree (11.3) also are averaging double figures in points for the Mercury.
Phoenix leads the league in scoring, averaging 85 points per game. Dallas is last in the league in defense, allowing 88.1 points per game.
With Taurasi returning to join Griner, the Mercury had high expectations, but they lost their first four games and have been unable to establish much consistency. They lost to the Chicago Sky 79-77 in their last game before the Olympic break and are just 2-9 against Western Conference opponents. However, coach Sandy Brondello told reporters that Wednesday's practice was one of the best the team had all season.
It remains to be seen if it pays off Friday.