Griner, streaking Mercury host Dream

Center Brittney Griner is the midst of her best season but might still have something to prove when the surging Phoenix Mercury host the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night.

Griner, a lead scoring option for the first time in her five-year pro career, is averaging a WNBA-high 22.4 points per game, a career-best 8.4 rebounds and is still the best around at blocking shots at 2.8 per game.

But the 6-foot-8 post player wasn’t selected as a Western Conference All-Star starter. The starters, announced Tuesday, were chosen based on a mix of fan, player and media voting. The reserves will be announced next week.

Griner heads into Wednesday’s game as the Western Conference Player of the Week after leading the Mercury to a 3-0 record, including two 30-point outings and a pair of double-doubles. She had never had a 30-point game before this season.

She was asked after Sunday’s 81-69 home victory over the New York Liberty if there was a ceiling to her game.

“I hope not,” Griner said in the Arizona Republic. “I hope there’s no ceiling.”

Phoenix (10-6) is on a season-high three-game winning streak. Atlanta (8-8) has won its past two games.

The game will feature two All-Star starters — Mercury guard Diana Taurasi for the West and Dream guard Tiffany Hayes for the East. This will be the eighth All-Star Game start for Taurasi, who is averaging 18.1 points and is the league’s career scoring leader.

This marks the first appearance in the All-Star Game for Hayes, a sixth-year pro who is averaging 16.6 points and 1.7 steals.

Dream guard Sancho Lyttle recently returned from international play, also missing a game last week after taking an elbow to the nose. She played 30 minutes in Sunday’s win over Dallas.

“It’s a really great feeling to kind of finally have your team together,” said Atlanta coach Michael Cooper. “We’re back now. And I think we have a nice, little groove going.”

Cooper has had much recent praise for point guard Layshia Clarendon, who is averaging 11.1 points and 6.6 assists. She scored 43 points in the two-game winning streak.

“A real big key for us going forward is her leadership as far as getting us in things and getting us good shots and her being offensive-minded herself,” Cooper said.

Atlanta rookie guard Brittney Sykes, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft, has played her best ball of late, averaging 16.8 points in the past six games to increase her season average to 9.7.

Atlanta is last in the WNBA in 3-point shooting at 26.2 percent. Sykes has helped in that area, making 6 of 10 from behind the arc in the past two games.