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Can Mercury support players step up in rematch with Sparks?

On Wednesday, a clutch bucket from Erica Wheeler helped the Los Angeles Sparks (5-5) steal a win from the Phoenix Mercury (5-7). The squads meet again on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. The Mercury will need more players than just Brittney Griner to have big games to reverse the result and avoid a five-game losing streak.

New York Liberty v Phoenix Mercury
The Phoenix Mercury need Kia Nurse and Brianna Turner to assume more of the scoring load.
Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

On Wednesday night, Erica Wheeler sealed the Los Angeles Sparks’ 85-80 win over the Phoenix Mercury, draining a giant-killing mid-range jumper with under 10 seconds to go in the game.

Friday night brings the rematch between these two longtime Western Conference foes (10:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network).

The Sparks (5-5) will be hoping for a repeat performance on their home court. While Wheeler stepped up with the clutch play, LA enjoyed contributions from up and down the lineup, with six Sparks scoring in double figures. The Sparks also took care of the ball, registering 17 assists to only five turnovers for a season-best assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.40. Their 45 percent shooting from the field, which was led by efficient performances from their starting backcourt of Wheeler (8-for-17) and Kristi Toliver (7-for-14), was their second-best shooting performance of the season. For an LA team missing their anchoring star in Nneka Ogwumike, Wednesday night was a near-ideal offensive performance.

Phoenix (5-7), in contrast, was highly dependent on Brittney Griner. Griner had a big-time game, with 30 points on 62.5 percent shooting from the field. She also tallied 10 rebounds. However, the rest of the Mercury’s expected offensive contributors failed to produce at a sufficient level. While Sophie Cunningham, starting in place of Megan Walker, surprised with an efficient 16 points, Walker, Brianna Turner and, even more critically, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Kia Nurse did not provide enough of an offensive punch. Diggins-Smith struggled to find her stroke while Nurse played just over 18 minutes and took only five shots.

Turner did her thing on the boards, snagging a game-high 12 rebounds. Yet, the Mercury could use more scoring aggression from Turner, who rarely looks for her own shot. She has shown good touch around the basket and is rather reliable from the free throw line, suggesting she should become a bit more selfish on the offensive end.

Game information

Los Angeles Sparks (5-5) vs. Phoenix Mercury (5-7)

When: Friday, June 18 at 10:30 p.m. ET

Where: Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, CA

How to watch: CBS Sports Network or Spectrum Sportsnet

Key to the matchup: The undersized Sparks hung with the Mercury on the boards on Wednesday. LA has averaged a league-low 29.8 rebounds per game, but they grabbed 35 rebounds to Phoenix’s 38. Numerous Sparks contributed to the squad’s second-best rebounding performance of the season. Brittney Sykes led the way with a season-high nine boards. This willingness to do the dirty work helped the Sparks hold the Mercury to 13 second-chance points. The Sparks themselves had 23 second-chance points. If LA again exerts this extra level of effort, they should be in position to take another game from Phoenix. However, as the Mercury now have lost four-straight games, they should be the more motivated team.

Sparks injury report: Nneka Ogwumike (out; knee), Chiney Ogwumike (out indefinitely; knee), Jasmine Walker (out for season; knee)

Mercury injury report: Diana Taurasi (out; sternum), Bria Hartley (out indefinitely; knee)