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Mystics set for their second showdown against one of the three WNBA frontrunners

Both Phoenix and Washington seem to live and die based on how their best players perform.

The Phoenix Mercury's five leading scorers.
The Phoenix Mercury's five leading scorers.

The Phoenix Mercury have a losing record so far in 2013, but you could argue that they still have the weapons to be the best team in the league on any given night.

Diana Taurasi in particular looks like she is back to being the WNBA's best scorer after playing in just eight games last year. She is averaging 23.7 points thus far in 2013 and a staggering 29.7 in the Mercury's three wins. That is what the 4-2 Mystics are about to go up against on Friday in Phoenix, along with DeWanna Bonner and Brittney Griner. That is no easy task.

And should the Mystics fall to Phoenix, they will head to L.A. on Sunday one loss away from falling to .500, which would be deflating after their exciting 4-1 start. The Mystics will be underdogs against the Mercury and the Sparks, who were last seen blowing out San Antonio by 36. But it would be meaningful if Washington could pull out at least one win on this west coast road trip they are on, so that they can return home without having had their three-game winning streak completely undone.

Phoenix was the second-worst team in the league last year after the Mystics, but that was largely without Taurasi. With the return of Taurasi and the addition of No, 1 overall pick Brittney Griner, the Mercury were the preseason pick of many to win the WNBA championship this year.

However, Phoenix got off to a rocky start with three straight losses to open the season, including two by 20-plus. After that, they reeled off three straight wins before losing on Wednesday night to the Lynx and falling to 3-4.

Taurasi had 28 points in Wednesday night's game, but her previous high in a loss was 21. DeWanna Bonner, the team's second leading scorer, has scored 20-plus in each of the Mercury's wins and below 20 in each of their losses, including just four on Wednesday.

So as Taurasi and Bonner go, so goes the Mercury, although Griner is averaging two more points in losses and did not play in the team's win over the defending champion Fever.

If the Mystics are to beat Phoenix it seems clear that they will have to contain Taurasi and Bonner. And while they are certainly capable of winning with other scorers, Ivory Latta playing well seems to be their formula for success. She has been their leading scorer in all four of their wins, while coming up one-point shy of Crystal Langhorne (15 points) in a 10-point loss to Atlanta and coming nowhere near Langhorne (23) and Matee Ajavon (17) with just nine points in Tuesday's loss to Seattle. Perhaps an irrelevant statistic this early in the season but when Latta makes at least one 3-pointer the Mystics win and when she does not they lose. In fact, she has made multiple 3-pointers in all of their wins.

After Washington lost to Seattle, Mike Thibault called the Mystics and the Storm "two teams who are pounding on the edge of maybe being good." That is a fair assessment of the Mystics right now because despite their solid 4-2 record, the combined record of the teams they have defeated is 8-19, and it is 3-18 if you take out Minnesota. However, with two or maybe even one win in their next two games, the Mystics can begin to prove that their win over the Lynx was no fluke.