Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 2014 WNBA All-Star Game is just around the corner, and the Mercury are still dominating as they get set to welcome the rest of the league's top players to Phoenix this weekend.
Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi will both start for the Western Conference on Saturday in Phoenix. The Mercury have won a franchise-record 10 games in a row dating back to a one-point loss at Connecticut on June 12. Phoenix outscored Seattle 21-4 in the second quarter of its 78-58 rout on Tuesday, as Penny Taylor paced the team with 14 points and Griner chipped in 13 points, eight boards and a career-best five assists.
The Mercury managed to defeat Chicago, 72-66, on Friday despite being held to a season-low 37.3 percent efficiency from the floor by a Sky team that was without Elena Delle Donne and Courtney Vandersloot. Delle Donne was voted into the Eastern Conference's starting five for Saturday's All-Star Game, but her ongoing battle with Lyme disease will most likely keep her out of action. Vandersloot, who is leading the WNBA with 6.4 assists per game, is sidelined with a sprained knee.
Phoenix coasted Sunday to a 90-61 victory over the San Antonio Stars, who are the only team to win at the US Airways Center this season. Candice Dupree posted 15 of her 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first half for Phoenix, which also received nine points, eight rebounds and eight assists courtesy of Taurasi. The Mercury held all five of San Antonio's starters under 10 points, including second-leading scorer Kayla McBride, who made good on only 1-of-11 shots from the floor to net just four points.
"It's one game at a time," Dupree said regarding the Mercury's winning streak. "Each game is a goal to get to the ultimate goal, which is a championship."
Although Phoenix has been performing at an unbelievably high level, it still holds only a 1 1/2 game lead over the Lynx for first place in the Western Conference standings. Minnesota's Maya Moore led all WNBA players in votes received for All-Star 2014, and it's hard to argue with the fans' admiration for the third-year forward out of Connecticut. Moore is currently leading the WNBA in scoring at 23.7 points and also contributed 8.2 rebounds. Minnesota bounced back from a surprising loss at New York last weekend with wins over Los Angeles (83-72), Tulsa (91-85) and Seattle (77-60).
Since the Lynx are still without star guard Seimone Augustus, Moore has had to put the team on her back to keep the ship from sinking. Moore scored 16 of her game-high 30 points in the final 10 minutes of Minnesota's win over Los Angeles and recorded double-doubles in her next two appearances to help the Lynx. Moore poured in 16 points in the third quarter of Sunday's matchup versus Seattle after an unusually quiet first half.
San Antonio is sitting in third place in the Western Conference race with an 11-11 ledger, while the remaining three teams are all below the .500 mark. Tulsa has dropped four games in a row to fall into last place. Although the Shock are at the bottom of the standings, Skylar Diggins has been a bright spot and will make her first career All-Star Game start this weekend. The Sparks' Candace Parker will occupy the final starting spot for the West.
Atlanta's incredible start to the season resulted in both rookie guard Shoni Schimmel and scoring machine Angel McCoughtry being voted into the Eastern Conference's starting lineup for All-Star 2014. The Dream have knocked off their last four opponents to rise to a 15-5 overall record, making them the only team with a winning record in their conference. McCoughtry tallied 33 points and 10 rebounds on Sunday, as Atlanta outlasted Chicago for an 81-79 overtime decision.
In an effort to make a run at a postseason berth, New York traded Delisha Milton-Jones to the Dream in exchange for three-time WNBA champion Swin Cash on Wednesday. Cash has appeared in 399 career games, averaging 11.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Milton-Jones averaged 5.9 points and 2.5 boards in 18 games with the Liberty this season.
Cash will join a New York unit that is desperately in need of a third wheel to accompany All-Star starter Cappie Pondexter and the very talented Tina Charles, who have guided the Liberty to a 7-13 record. Cash came off the bench to contribute only four points in 13 minutes on Friday in New York's 68-54 loss to Los Angeles.
Anything is possible in the Eastern Conference as the five teams trailing the Dream are separated by only 2 1/2 games. Washington's current two-game winning streak has thrust it back into the playoff picture, while the Sky's five-game losing slide has reduced them to a fifth-place position. Chicago is capable of winning the Eastern Conference outright when healthy, but its injury woes have been too much to overcome to this point.
Indiana owns a 10-11 overall record after its 93-74 home loss to Atlanta on Saturday. All-Star forward Tamika Catchings finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals, but the Fever's allowance of 55-first half points put them in too deep of a hole to persevere. Indiana's Briann January left Saturday's contest with right knee pain after a collision with Schimmel.
1. Phoenix (16-3)
2. Atlanta (15-5)
3. Minnesota (16-6)
4. San Antonio (11-11)
5. Indiana (10-11)
6. Los Angeles (9-11)
7. Washington (9-12)
8. Connecticut (9-13)
9. Chicago (8-13)
10. Tulsa (7-14)
11. Seattle (9-14)
12. New York (7-13)
THIS WEEK'S KEY MATCHUPS
Tuesday, July 15
Los Angeles at Indiana - Two teams battling for position in the standings will collide on Tuesday as the Sparks and Fever square off in Indiana. January is hopeful to return from her injury to assist Catchings, who will have her hands full as she goes up against Los Angeles' powerful front line of Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. The Sparks rank near the bottom of the WNBA in points allowed with 78.2 ppg, but they are capable of matching just about anyone on the offensive end. It will be interesting to see whether Indiana's Hall-of-Fame coach Lin Dunn decides to slow the game down or try to run-and-gun against the Sparks.
Thursday, July 17
Connecticut at Phoenix - In her final outing before All-Star weekend, Griner will be tested as the Sun's star rookie, Chiney Ogwumike, visits the desert. Ogwumike is a clear front-runner to win the WNBA Rookie of the Year since she has netted 15.4 ppg and 8.3 rpg since being selected number one overall in the draft. Connecticut is the last team to defeat the Mercury, who are just three wins away from tying last season's total of 19 regular-season wins. The Sun need just one more victory to equal their 2013 total of 10 wins.
Saturday, July 19
2014 WNBA All-Star Game - The top players in the league will be present in Phoenix this weekend while the rest of the WNBA gets a few days off. The West held on for a 102-98 win last season in Connecticut. Parker was voted the MVP of the 2013 edition, while Cash won the award in 2009 and 2011.