On Friday night at 10 p.m. ET, the Phoenix Mercury and Dallas Wings meet for the third and final time this season.
If the third contest is again close, what factors might help Phoenix or Dallas gain the advantage?
For the Mercury, production from beyond Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith is a must. Since Diana Taurasi exited the lineup with a chest injury, the other members of Phoenix’s “Big 3” have elevated their play. In the past five games without Taurasi, Diggins-Smith is putting up 22.2 points and six assists per game. When she does not have the jumper working, she has scored efficiently by getting to the line and taking 8.2 free throws per game. Griner is averaging 22 points on 68.1 percent shooting in Taurasi’s absence. She also is grabbing 38.8 percent of available boards when she is on the floor, which has translated to 12.4 rebounds per game. These shooting and rebounding percentages would be career highs. BG has been especially spectacular against the Wings, with matching 27-point, 16-rebound efforts.
However, in Phoenix’s Tuesday loss to Dallas, only one other Mercury player managed to score in double digits, with Megan Walker chipping in 10 points. Kia Nurse, who scored an efficient 21 points in Phoenix’s late May victory, struggled on Tuesday, making only two of her 11 field goal attempts.
The Mercury also could use some off-the-bench production, especially since the Wings’ bench gave them the edge on Tuesday night. Dallas sixth-woman Marina Mabrey made winning contributions, scoring 14 points, grabbing six rebounds and handing out five assists. Ty Harris also provided positive playmaking from the bench, registering a game-high seven assists as she was a game-best plus-14. Vets Isabelle Harrison and Kayla Thornton also offered plus performances.
It is worth asking if head coach Vickie Johnson should insert one or more of these players into the starting lineup. While it is understandable that Dallas wants to invest in No. 1 pick Charli Collier, her developmental minutes have been detrimental to a team that desires a playoff berth. For the season, the Wings are plus-1.7 as a team; Collier is a minus-6.9. This gap is more glaring because of how good backup center Izzy Harrison has been. She is a team-best plus-5.8.
Moriah Jefferson’s starting spot also deserves scrutiny. Based on their play so for this season, either Mabrey or Harris promises to provide more as a starting point guard. It appears Johnson recognizes as much, as Jefferson played just over five minutes last game. Although Johnson may not make a starting lineup change ahead of Friday night’s tip, an adjustment might be needed if the Wings wish to fulfill their playoff potential.
In Friday’s early game, an 8 p.m. contest on CBS Sports Network, the Atlanta Dream (4-5) will look to rebound from Wednesday’s rough shooting night when they meet the Seattle Storm (8-2) for a rematch. The Storm, however, will hope for a repeat performance, as six players scoring in double figures paced a dominating victory.
Atlanta Dream (4-5) vs. Seattle Storm (8-2)
When: Friday, June 11 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Gateway Center in College Park, GA
How to watch: CBS Sports Network or JOE TV
Key to the matchup: When Courtney Williams’s offense is flowing, she is one of the most fun players to watch in all of the WNBA, stopping, popping and swishing with spice and swagger. When Williams’ shot is not falling, it can become a brick fest. Unfortunately for the Dream, the latter describes the last three games, when Williams has shot 33 percent from the field on 15 attempts per game. The absence of Chennedy Carter appears to have negatively affected Williams’ offense. In the 310 minutes the pair have shared the court this season, the Dream are plus-32, the best mark for any two players. As Carter remains out, Williams needs to find a way to rediscover her rhythm.
Dream injury report: Chennedy Carter (doubtful; elbow)
Storm injury report: Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (out for season; personal)
Highlight: A classic Courtney Williams transition pull-up jumper
Phoenix Mercury (5-4) vs. Dallas Wings (4-5)
When: Friday, June 11 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, AZ
How to watch: WNBA League Pass
Key to the matchup: Appreciate Arike! As she has demonstrated time and again during her two-plus seasons in the WNBA, Arike Ogunbowale can singlehandedly swing a game with her stupendous shotmaking and cold-blooded clutchness. She is a player whose effectiveness defies the principles of efficiency. Even as her shooting and scoring percentages may not always impress, she consistently converts in the moments that matter. For the season, Dallas has played 19 total minutes when the score is within five points or fewer with less than five minutes to go. In these 19 minutes, Ogunbowale has scored 13 points on 50 percent shooting, including going 3-of-7 from three. She also has five rebounds, five assists and two steals. Overall, she is plus-11 in clutch time.
Mercury injury report: Diana Taurasi (out; chest); Bria Hartley (out indefinitely; knee)
Wings injury report: none