The Phoenix Mercury are very close to having star guard Diana Taurasi back, but they will have to make do for at least one more game without her as they face the Dallas Wings on Thursday night.
Taurasi has yet to play this season after undergoing back surgery in April, and the Mercury (2-4) have struggled without her - especially on the defensive perimeter. The WNBA's all-time leading scorer was a full participant in practice Monday and Tuesday, and the expectation is she will be cleared to make her season debut Sunday versus the Sparks.
"There was some fatigue," Taurasi told the Arizona Republic on Tuesday. "I could feel it during the training, but I feel good. I felt like I could get my second wind pretty quickly. A lot of work pays off. It's tedious and mind numbing, but it does make you stronger and help you get back on the court and get to where you want to go a little bit quicker. I think we're heading in the right direction.
"It's easy to just say, 'I can play the next game,' but no matter what a game is different than practice," added the 37-year-old, who averaged 20.7 points in 2018. "This is very controlled. I can stop any time pretty much in a practice. In a game, it's a different level of intensity. I'm definitely closer than I was a week ago to being back on the court."
In addition to missing Taurasi for this game, starting guard Yvonne Turner left to represent Hungary at the EuroBasket tournament and will miss at least the next three contests. Phoenix has been getting by offensively thanks to the powerful frontcourt tandem of DeWanna Bonner and Britney Griner, who are both in the WNBA's top five in scoring. Bonner leads the league at 23.8 points per game and Griner is fifth at 17.7 per contest, but the lack of scoring behind the duo has been problematic.
Griner had 24 points and 13 rebounds while Bonner added 22 points in Friday night's 85-68 loss to Los Angeles, but no one else was in double figures. The Mercury again struggled contesting 3-point shots as the Sparks hit 9 of 19 from beyond the arc, continuing a season-long trend in which opponents have hit 46.7 percent of their 3-pointers while making 8.3 per contest.
Dallas (1-5) has the league's worst record but is looking to build on its first win after recording a 71-61 victory over Atlanta on Saturday. Arike Ogunbowale scored 17 points off the bench and Allisha Gray added 16 as the Wings shook off an eight-point first quarter and erased a nine-point first-half deficit with a 17-4 burst in the third quarter.
Like the Mercury, the Wings will lose a key player to the Eurobasket tournament as Glory Johnson will be representing Montenegro. Dallas, though, will be further thinned in the frontcourt due to the expected absence of Isabelle Harrison due to a concussion. That means Wings coach Brian Agler will need big minutes from Imani McGee-Stafford and Theresa Plaisance to try to slow down Bonner and Griner.
Phoenix eliminated Dallas in the first round of last year's playoffs with a 101-83 rout as Bonner scored 29 points and Taurasi added 26 and 12 assists. The Mercury also won two of the three regular-season meetings.