The Phoenix Mercury returned from the WNBA's month-long Olympic break with a rousing win while the Los Angeles Sparks turned in one of their most uneven performances of the season in a decisive loss.
If that pattern remains the same when the Mercury and Sparks square off Sunday in Phoenix in a crucial Western Conference showdown it could be the sign of some changes in the pecking order as the league's regular season runs through its final nine games.
But don't count on it. Los Angeles (21-4), which has been the best team in the WNBA all year, still holds the league's top seed and is far from pushing any panic button despite its loss Friday to a surging Seattle squad.
The Sparks' scoring and rebounding leader, Nneka Ogwumike, is one of the favorites for league MVP, poured in 28 points (15 of which came in the fourth quarter) in a losing cause and shows no signs of slowing down.
A win on the road against Phoenix (11-14), which currently holds the seventh-seed in the WNBA's new playoff system, would get Los Angeles back on track and ahead of Minnesota, which is a half-game back in second.
The game is ultra-important to Phoenix as well for both momentum sake and the help in would give in the Mercury's push for the postseason. Six of Phoenix's final nine games are against teams that are above the Mercury in the standings, and two other are versus squads that are hot on Phoenix's heels.
The Mercury are a veteran bunch, with the ultra-talented Diana Taurasi leading the way in both scoring and assists and 6-foot-9 center Brittney Griner a force in rebounding and blocked shots. Phoenix has won three of its past four games, with a 79-77 home loss to Chicago in late July the only defeat in that stretch.
Los Angeles beat the Mercury 77-71 on June 17 at Staples Center and the two teams play a third time on Sept. 13 in Los Angeles.