Red-hot Mercury brace for WNBA-best Lynx

The WNBA-leading Minnesota Lynx will start a home-and-home weekend series when they visit the hot Phoenix Mercury on Friday night.

Minnesota (13-2) won in Phoenix 91-83 on June 30, but the Mercury (11-6) have ripped off a season-high four consecutive victories since.

“They’ve changed a little bit,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve told WNBA.com.

“That’s what happens during the course of the season; two weeks is a long time. Somebody gets hot and starts playing well, so then the emphasis of what they are running could be tweaked a little bit or they add a wrinkle. … You have to be nimble.”

The hottest player in the league is probably Phoenix center Brittney Griner, averaging a league-best 22.8 points. As it was in the first meeting, the marquee matchup will be Griner against center Sylvia Fowles, averaging 20.1 points and 10.0 rebounds.

That post battle never developed June 30 as a foul-plagued Griner played only 20 minutes, scoring a season-low six points and grabbing only three rebounds. In the four games since, the 6-foot-8 Griner is averaging 26.0 points and 10.8 rebounds.

“We had a tough game last time we played them,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said of the Lynx. “BG only had 20 minutes in that game. Hopefully they just let us play, and may the best team win.”

Fowles had 17 points and eight rebounds in the first game against Phoenix, when Lynx forward Maya Moore scored a team-high 21 points. Moore (15.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists) and Fowles were selected this week as All-Star Game starters for the West in voting from fans, media and players.

Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi will also be an All-Star starter, although Griner will not. The reserves will be announced next week.

Taurasi is the WNBA’s career leading scorer, while Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus is 13th and guard Lindsay Whalen is 14th.

Minnesota is coming off a surprising 100-76 loss on Saturday at the Chicago Sky, which is in 11th in the 12-team league. Fowles and Moore combined for only 21 points as the Lynx committed 20 turnovers.

While Minnesota, which won the league in 2015 and lost in the 2016 championship series to Los Angeles, was expected to be at the top of the standings this season, Phoenix was not. The Mercury replaced everybody except Griner and Taurasi after last season.

“I think we’re learning a lot about ourselves right now,” Taurasi said. “When Minnesota comes to town, that is always a tough challenge, so we’ll see if we’re up for it. … I think we’re ahead of schedule, which is nice.”

The Lynx have won eight consecutive games against Phoenix, dating to the end of the 2015 season. Minnesota went 6-0 versus the Mercury last season, including a three-game playoff sweep.