Sparks-Mercury Preview

The Phoenix Mercury set a WNBA record for regular-season wins, boast two of the top five finishers in this year's MVP voting and have won a team-record 15 straight at home.

They also took all five meetings with the Los Angeles Sparks, their opponents in a best-of-three Western Conference semifinals series that begins Friday night in Phoenix.

Yet despite all that, Sparks coach Penny Toler is not intimidated.

"The bottom line is, everybody's beatable," she said. "(The Mercury) do put their shoes on like everyone else, right?"

How they perform in those shoes is the difference. The Mercury (29-5) tied the league mark for victories with Saturday's 76-69 home win over the Sparks (16-18) then surpassed it with a 78-65 win at Seattle in Sunday's regular-season finale.

Diana Taurasi averaged a team-best 16.2 points and led the league in assists at 5.6 per contest. The five-time scoring champion was second to Minnesota's Maya Moore in MVP voting and became the first to lead the WNBA in scoring and assists in different seasons.

Brittney Griner finished fifth in the MVP vote after leading the league in blocks at 3.79 per game. Griner and Taurasi may be the biggest stars, but first-year coach Sandy Brondello knows the club's success came from more than just two players.

"It was team chemistry," Brondello said. "And it was buying into playing defense first and playing out of there on the offensive end, which is something new for this franchise. They bought in and really embraced what we wanted to do."

Phoenix didn't have much trouble with Los Angeles this year and had a pair of victories by at least 20 points. It also won last season's first-round series against the Sparks in three games.

Candace Parker, who was fourth in MVP voting, sat out Saturday's matchup and left the stadium with ice wrapped around her knee. She scored at least 24 points in three of her final five games and should be ready to go for the series opener.

"They're going to be ready for us," Mercury forward Candice Dupree said. "There's no doubt about that. They have a great team and we're going to need to be as prepared as possible. I think we're getting there."

The Sparks limited the minutes of their top players in Saturday's matchup, as Kristi Toliver played 10 and Nneka Ogwumike a little over 14. Parker (19.4 points per game), Ogwumike (15.8), Jantel Lavender (11.9) and Toliver (11.8) all averaged double figures.

"They're a tough team - you look at their roster," Taurasi said. "But it's whoever is best at the end of the day, and we're going to have to be that."

The Sparks' only win in last season's playoff series came in Phoenix, while the Mercury won both of their games in Los Angeles.

Game 2 is Sunday at Staples Center.

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