Of all the threats facing the Seattle Storm in their attempt to defend their 2011 WNBA title, the Phoenix Mercury are widely considered among the most dangerous.
The reason should be obvious for most basketball fans: a well-rested Diana Taurasi.
After a highly-publicized mix up while playing over in Turkey during the WNBA off-season, Taurasi has had months of rest and is more ready than she's ever been to a third WNBA title to her resume.
"Her training camp we started her off slow because she was off a couple months because she wasn't playing in Europe," said Mercury coach Corey Gaines during the WNBA preseason media teleconference. "So she came out, and made sure we didn't want to do too much too fast. But she's looking good. I will say this much, she's rested.
"For my team the way we play, it's important for my players to be rested. In the past when we've had a training camp and the players have had a month to come in and get some time off from Europe, it's helped my style that I learned how to coach through Paul Westhead, and I think this year's the same thing."
Although the Storm dominated last season, the Mercury came on strong late in the year after fully integrating some of the players they'd acquired via trade. So with Taurasi rested and the Mercury returning many of their contributors from last year, there's no question that this is going to be a strong team this season.
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Diana Taurasi, rested, and motivated, are words opponents will not like seeing together. Phoenix continues to evolve, adding bench pieces Nakia Sanford and Marie Ferdinand-Harris much like Seattle added Le'Coe Willingham and Svetlana Abrosimova last year. Temeka Johnson is the perfect point guard to run this team, and Kara Braxton with a full year in camp could finally break out like people have been waiting.
For all the focus on the Mercury's perimeter game, it could well be their interior presence that really makes them a better team this season. While rebounding is unquestionably necessary to run the way they like to play, they're also finding ways to integrate them into their offense.
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A new wrinkle to the pick and roll game will be Braxton herself. She obviously can set some of the best screens in the league but so far in camp has been working on rolling off those picks and finishing. It was a part of her game we didn't see last season.
"They got me in a lot more (pick and rolls) this year. Should be cool," Braxton said. "I can actually (finish on the move). That's a phase of my game that they're bringing out of me and helping me out a lot because usually I'm down low on the basket but now I'm getting the ball a little bit more, doing a little bit (on the move) and stuff like that. It's a good look."
After an outstanding game of basketball last night between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx in budding superstar Maya Moore's debut, today's game promises to be exciting as well. While Storm coach Brian Agler said yesterday in practice that free agent acquisition Belinda Snell is not likely to play, decorated veteran Katie Smith has been practicing and will likely suit up in KeyArena for the first time this season.
And against this Mercury team, the Storm will need to be at their best right out of the gate.
"I think they're as good as anyone in the league," said Storm coach Brian Agler about the Mercury after practice yesterday. "We've always had interesting competitions with them."