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Will struggling, Griner-less Phoenix fall to red-hot Dallas?

Preview of tonight’s matchup between the Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury. The game will be on ESPN2 at 8 pm ET.

Barry Gossage - NBAE/Getty Images

In May, playoffs were a distant mirage. Fast forward to August - Dallas and Phoenix are part of the conversation.

“The goal is to focus on the task at hand,” Dallas Wings forward Glory Johnson stated. “It’s not that we’re not excited or don’t have it in our minds (playoffs).”

That mentality is what pushed a now seventh ranked squad over the defending champions on Sunday. It’s a strategy they’ll depend on when the Phoenix Mercury comes to town today.

Games of Glory

Dallas is riding high after consecutive wins over Seattle and Los Angeles. Player of the Week Glory Johnson is ecstatic, knowing how her team got to this point.

Johnson played out of her mind on Sunday, posting her 10th double-double with 23 points and 13 boards. But, the five-year veteran attributes her team’s success to sharing the ball, scoring from the bench — and solid defense.

It showed when Allisha Gray powerfully blocked Sparks’ Odyssey Sims shot on Sunday.

“(She) got the whole bench hype off that,” Johnson recalled on the team’s reaction. “It brings more energy for us on the floor. Even though Gray’s not going to have any kind of emotion on her face.”

Playing with such a young team, Johnson has stepped into a leadership role she didn’t see coming, and has blossomed with the newfound responsibility. Her servitude mindset of what she can do for her team, is a reciprocated anthem played out by her teammates.

“This is crunch time, I need to finish, make the contact, make the free throws,” said Johnson. “(We) need to buckle down, play defense, guarding our man.”

The Climb

An insane fourth-quarter run is what turned heads toward Dallas on Sunday. The Wings have improved with their stamina and overall momentum in finishing games, bringing revamped team, that’s hitting their stride at the most critical aspect of the season, to the table on Thursday versus Phoenix.

Sitting in ninth place and one spot of the playoffs last week, Dallas was on the outside looking in. But, with the added production of Aerial Powers sparking the Wings off the bench, the Wings are flying to newfound heights. However, it hasn’t been an easy journey for the talented second-year guard. Injuries derailed the start of her season, but patience — and resolve — has proven to be her best attribute. Through hip surgery and her healing process, Powers came back playing with more aggression than ever.

In only five games since being activated, she’s has earned her proverbial keep. On Sunday, she tallied with 12 points, four rebounds, and three assists, breaking a season high in assists.

“I’ve just been being patient for whatever I can do for this team,” Powers explained. “I’m happy that I was able to help the team in any way. The fact that we’re on a winning streak makes me very excited.”

Phoenix without BG

After Brittney Griner suffered a tough injury in July, Phoenix has struggled to find their footing without their leading scorer on the floor. But her teammates know that they have no excuses, and have to find a way to persevere.

“(We need to) prove to ourselves what we’re capable of,” Mercury guard Danielle Robinson said. “We do it every day in practice; we need to just do it in a game.”

Without Griner, the Mercury isn't exactly without a shining star. In fact, why not rely on the league’s all-time leading scorer Diana Taurasi? Phoenix has to, because if they don’t, they could be find themselves in a very precarious situation, as they could go from a solid sixth to ninth in a blink of an eye.

Follow through

If you follow the WNBA, you probably know the Mercury are better on the court than what the numbers — and their record — reflect. The last two games Phoenix has lost by only six points — COMBINED.

For a team that’s struggling to finish, Phoenix needs to show real resistance against a Dallas fourth quarter fury.

“Everybody has to get in the paint, everybody has to box out,” Monique Currie elaborated on the Mercury’s focus. “It’s going to take a team effort, not just running in there and getting the ball but putting the body on somebody.”

“Everything (games) that we play now is important,” explained Robinson. “It all comes down to every single game.”

Catch Thursday’s matchup between the Mercury and Wings at 8 pm EST on ESPN2.