Looking ahead on the schedule about a month ago, tonight's matchup between the Phoenix Mercury (19-13) and Seattle Storm (19-13) figured to be one of the more exciting games of the season.
With the Mercury and Storm tied for second place with two games left on their schedule, tonight has the added significance of playoff implications: the two rivals are already set to meet in the first round of the WNBA playoffs and the Storm have an opportunity to clinch home court advantage with a win tonight.
So it won't take much for the Storm to get motivated tonight, as described in a blog by Kevin Pelton on StormBasketball.com.
“Our players don’t need a lot of pep talks and things like that,” said Agler. “They know what’s at stake. They’re great competitors and they’re hungry right now. Our job is to get them prepared and try to get them to game night healthy.”
The Mercury set up this scenario with a 91-76 win in Phoenix over the Tulsa Shock last night with forward Penny Taylor sitting out due to ongoing bouts with back spasms. As she is day-to-day, whether Taylor is able to play could have a significant impact on the outcome of the game: she is among the most versatile small forwards in the league and has put up MVP-caliber numbers this season.
And for the Mercury, the decision to play her is a difficult one - on the one hand, winning tonight and getting a game closer to home court advantage would is an asset to them against a Storm team they've dropped 9 of the last 10 games to. On the other hand, given their difficulty in beating the Storm, it's also to their advantage to be rested heading into the playoffs to give themselves the best chance to play well.
With the Storm at full strength, it's hard to imagine the Mercury beating them without Taylor in KeyArena. Most of all, Storm center Lauren Jackson poses a huge defensive challenge who struggle to contain her in the paint or stay with her as she moves between the interior and perimeter. Point guard Sue Bird is among the best in the world, but the Mercury struggle to match up with her as well.
For more on the game, visit SB Nation's Swish Appeal for a preview with stats and players to watch.