Storm-Mercury Preview

The Associated PressMay 17, 2014

Expectations are high for Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury, who are ready to get the season underway.

The Seattle Storm's first game didn't exactly go as planned.

Phoenix hopes to avoid a fourth consecutive season-opening defeat when it hosts the Storm, who look to extend their winning streak in the series to six Saturday night.

After opening 10-11 and firing coach Corey Gaines, the Mercury (19-15) managed to make it all the way to the Western Conference finals before getting swept by eventual champion Minnesota. While Phoenix enters this year with title aspirations, it doesn't want to get ahead of itself.

"I'm not thinking about very much beyond what we are doing today," Taurasi told the team's official website. "We need to focus on today's practice to the fullest extent. Then when we have shootaround, be absolutely keyed in on that. Then when we play, be in that moment doing everything it takes to win that game. If we can do that all season long, again, I like our chances."

The Mercury are hoping to take the next step behind new coach Sandy Brondello, who has already had a positive effect on her club.

"When the head coach has it, when your players have it, if there's one person who doesn't have it they're going to stick out like sore thumb," Taurasi said. "The thing with Sandy is she's been here before (as a coach) in San Antonio. When things don't really go the way you want them to, you have a chip on your shoulder. She's not here to just smile or for show; she's ready to get after it. When you see that from your head coach, that gets everyone going."

The Mercury would also love to see Brittney Griner take a big leap forward in her second season in the league. The former Baylor standout averaged 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and a WNBA-leading 3.0 blocks in 2013.

"I give myself a C- as a grade last year," Griner said. "It was a whirlwind year for me. My goal is always to win championships. I think I'm better prepared this year just from being comfortable and knowing what is expected of me."

The Storm are looking to avoid opening 0-2 for the second time in three seasons after falling 80-69 to Los Angeles on Friday. Seven-time All-Star Sue Bird had seven points, four assists and five of the team's 19 turnovers in her first action since missing last year to have a cyst removed from her knee.

Jenna O'Hea had 12 points off the bench but nobody else on Seattle scored more than eight. The Storm's starting five was outscored 56-34.

"We're going to learn from this. It's unfortunate we had to lose at all," said Bird, who came out with 2:27 left in the third quarter and did not play in the fourth. "But I think we saw what we need to do. Now, we know, and hopefully we can build on that - and quickly, because we play tomorrow."

Seattle has taken 16 of the last 18 regular-season matchups with the Mercury, including all four last year.