"We started the game so lousy that there was no other way but to get a little bit better, Diana Taurasi said after the Mercury's recent win against the Sparks. We stayed close in the first quarter, which was key and then the second quarter we did a good job defensively of getting in the way, getting rebounds and then we were able to go. Penny (Taylor) hit some shots. 'Pree (Candice Dupree) and DB (Dewanna Bonner) were running the lane, so we did some good things in the second quarter."
Phoenix and Minnesota meet for the fourth of five meetings in 2013, three of which come in the Twin Cities. The Lynx own an eight-game series win streak and have won 10 of the last 11 meetings overall. Phoenixs last win in the series cam on Aug. 9, 2011 at US Airways Center.
The Mercury own a 9-7 (.563) record for the season; Phoenix is just two games behind second-place Los Angeles and three games behind West-leading Minnesota.
Needless to say, these next two games against the West-leading Lynx are hugely important. After all, the Mercury does not play Minnesota after the All-Star break and faces the Sparks just once.
Here are the keys to a Mercury win:
Fouls and the Charity Stripe
The last time these two teams met, Phoenix ended its franchise-record five road game win streak with a loss to Minnesota, its third loss to the Lynx this season, on July 7.
Despite being the second-highest scoring team in the league at the time, Phoenix was held to a season-low 59 points in the loss. With an opponent-high 30 points in the third quarter, connecting on 9-of-16 (.563) shooting, Minnesota surged past Phoenix in the second half to extend the series losing streak to eight.
In that game, Phoenix sent the Lynx to the foul line 35 times, accounting for 26 of Minnesotas 91 points, while the Mercury made two of just five free-throw attempts. The Lynx made 19 free-throws in the fourth quarter alone.
Sending an exceptional team to the foul line 35 times cannot happen if the Mercury wants to win on Sunday.
Conversely, Phoenix will need to be more aggressive offensively in the hopes they can reach the charity stripe more than five times the entire game...
Always a key.
The Lynx is currently first in the WNBA in rebounds and second in field-goal percentage.
To be obvious and repetitive, Phoenix needs to be the aggressor on the boards and give up as few offensive rebounds to Minnesota as possible. They're already the third highest-scoring team in the league so preventing any additional opportunities to score is imperative for Phoenix.
With Brittney Griner and Lynetta Kizer still listed as day-to-day, the Mercury will rely again on a group rebounding effort.
Energy and Passion
The Mercury has historically been a team that responds well to adversity.
We saw this in their victory over the Sparks just a few days ago after dropping three games in a row.
Now, they face the Minnesota Lynx twice before the All-Star break.
Certainly, a win over the Lynx would make up some ground in the standings, but it would also be a huge confidence boost.
Collectively, the Mercury knows that if they play the way they are capable of, they can beat this Minnesota team. But until they prove it on the court, that sentiment doesn't mean very much.
If they play with the same type of intensity, heart and passion as they did against Los Angeles on Thursday, that should give them as good a shot as any to come away with a win at home.