Taurasi looks to get Mercury back on track vs. Sparks

With four games left in the regular season, the Phoenix Mercury are probably a safe bet to make the playoffs.

The team’s schedule, however, isn’t doing them any favors.

The sixth-place Mercury (15-15), who are 3 1/2 games clear of ninth-place Chicago with four games left, have sustained blowout losses at third-place Connecticut on Sunday and first-place Minnesota on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Phoenix returns home to face the league’s No. 2 team, the Los Angeles Sparks, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Mercury guard Diana Taurasi was blunt on Sunday after the Mercury were routed 48-21 in the second half of a 94-66 loss to Connecticut.

“They just kicked our (expletive),” Taurasi told the website Swish Appeal. “I mean that is just the bottom line. They kicked our (expletive) in the second half in every aspect of the game.”

The Mercury shot just 33.8 percent from the field, their second-worst performance of the season.

On Tuesday, Taurasi and Phoenix center Brittney Griner, the league’s leading scorer, were held to a total of 14 points as Minnesota overwhelmed the Mercury, 105-69. The Lynx converted 20 Phoenix turnovers into 27 points and won the rebound battle 32-19, holding the 6-foot-9 Griner to just two.

“Better teams are way better than us at the moment,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said, according to the website Canis Hoopus. “We have to go and find a way to get back and we’ve got to play better defense. The best teams can keep Minnesota to 61 and we keep them to 100, so obviously, we’re not a very good defensive team at the moment.”

By design, Taurasi played a season-low 17 minutes in the loss to Minnesota.

“(She’s) put a lot of miles on the tires lately,” Brondello said.

For Los Angeles, a key will be not looking ahead — or in the rear-view mirror.

The Sparks (22-8), winners of three straight, have closed the gap with Minnesota to 1 1/2 games and host the Lynx on Sunday in the teams’ regular-season rubber match.

Los Angeles leads third-place Connecticut by 2 1/2 games.

The Sparks avoided a similar trap on Tuesday, routing the last-place San Antonio Stars, 75-55.

“All wins are good, especially this time of year, because we’re trying to finish with one of these top two seeds,” Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said, per the San Antonio Express-News.

“So, really pleased with how we played defensively tonight. I thought we got a little bit haphazard in the third quarter offensively, and maybe at times in the fourth, but I like how we competed hard defensively throughout the game.”

Thursday’s game is the Sparks’ regular-season road finale. After facing the Lynx, they close with Atlanta and Connecticut.

The Mercury will be in Seattle on Sunday before closing out the regular season at home against Connecticut and Atlanta.

Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will be honored during halftime on Thursday.

Giffords was critically injured during a shooting on Jan. 8, 2011, that left six dead and 13 others wounded. She will be named the team’s Bright Futures Woman of Inspiration.