The Connecticut Sun are slowly inching towards the completion of their first goal, wrapping up the WNBA’s Eastern Conference regular-season championship and first seed in the playoffs.
The Sun (20-7) have only seven games remaining in the season, beginning with Friday’s only casino matchup with Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury.
Connecticut, 3-1 on its recently completed road trip, holds a 2-1/2 game lead over the Indiana Fever (17-9), which lost to Atlanta Wednesday night.
“If you’re focusing on keeping the top spot, that means you’re focusing on winning games and when you’re focusing on winning games, that means you’re preparing for the playoffs because you’re stringing together good possessions,” said Sun guard Kara Lawson. We have a lot to improve on, so we’re going to take this month and try to do that.”
The Fever have played one less game than the Sun. They also trail Connecticut in two other important areas; the Sun’s 15-4 conference record is better than Indiana’s 14-6. And the Sun have won two of the first three games between the teams. Both are tiebreakers for the conference title.
The Sun wrapped up the trip with a hard-fought 77-70 win over last-place Washington. It was Connecticut’s fifth straight win over the Mystics this season.
“You’re not going to win every game by twenty points,” said Mike Thibault, the Sun coach. “For every team in this league, the talent level is pretty even. On a given night, anything can happen.”
Which brings us to the Mercury (6-20), who have been battered this season by injuries. New York, battling with Chicago for fourth place in the East, belted them, 87-59, Wednesday in Newark, N.J.
The Liberty led 21-5 less than 6 minutes into the game. The advantage was 22 at the half and 32 at one point of the third.
Taurasi, the former UConn All-American and three-time Olympian, returned to the lineup Aug. 25 after missing nearly a month following the completion of the London Games.
Prior to London, she had played in just two games because of a sore hip flexor. After playing so well in London, it was thought she would return immediately to help the Mercury in the second half, but other ailments, like the removal of wisdom teeth, kept her out for three more games.
Against the Liberty, DeWanna Bonner scored 20 points for the Mercury. Taurasi and Alexis Hornbuckle added 10 points each.
“We’re going to have to do a better job on every side of the basketball,” Taurasi told the AssociatedPress after the game. “If you have bad possessions, you try to get back on defense. If defensively you don’t get rebounds, it’s hard to get a good offense going. It’s a combination of things so hopefully we do a better job of that.”
Phoenix was again without Candice Dupree, who has played just once since June 17 and is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on her left knee.
The Mercury then lost rookie point guard Sammy Prahalis, their top-draft pick, to an injured right shoulder in the opening minute of the second quarter and has played all season without Australian Penny Taylor, who is recovering from an ACL injury in her left knee.
Former UConn forward Charde Houston returned Wednesday after not playing since July 10 because of an injured knee.
It won’t be any easier against the Sun because center Tina Charles, the league’s top MVP candidate, is on another tear.
She has averaged 18.0 points and 10.4 rebounds in the Sun’s last seven games. She recorded double-doubles in all four road games on the trip and now has a league-high 16 this season.
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