Mercury-Sun Preview

The Associated Press

While the race for the Eastern Conference's top spot is far from over, the Connecticut Sun could inch closer to clinching first place with two of their next three games coming against the injury-plagued Phoenix Mercury.

The Sun try for a fifth consecutive victory over the visiting Mercury on Friday night.

Connecticut (20-7) holds a 2 1/2-game lead over second-place Indiana in the East with seven remaining, including what could prove to be a crucial matchup against the Fever on Sept. 19. The Sun, though, may be able to pull away well before then thanks to an upcoming easier slate of games.

Following this meeting with the Mercury (6-20), Connecticut hosts Chicago (10-16) on Sunday before visiting Phoenix on Wednesday.

Though the Mercury posted back-to-back wins after dropping a team-record 10 in a row July 1-Aug. 25, they saw their struggles resume Wednesday with an 87-59 loss at New York.

DeWanna Bonner scored 20 points while five-time All-Star Diana Taurasi had 10 for Phoenix, which was outscored 51-29 in the first half. The Mercury were limited to 24.6 percent shooting and recorded nine assists, a far cry from the Liberty's 27.

"We're going to have to do a better job on every side of the basketball," Taurasi said. "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."

In addition to Penny Taylor's season-long absence, Phoenix has only had Taurasi available for six games and continues to take the court without Candice Dupree, who's played once in the last 17 contests due to a left knee injury. The Mercury suffered another blow Wednesday when rookie point guard Sammy Prahalis injured her right shoulder early in the second quarter.

"When Sammy went down, we had one more point guard to go and that was it," coach Corey Gaines said. "It's a lot of injuries. It's a tough one."

The Sun are getting closer to full strength following Mistie Mims' return to the lineup Tuesday. She recorded 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists during a 77-70 win at Washington.

"I didn't really know what to expect," coach Mike Thibault said. "I just know that we always get a great effort, so effort can make up for some rustiness."

While Mims came up big in her first action since missing the previous two games with a strained quad, Connecticut is still without Olympian Asjha Jones, who's missed the last nine games with a strained left Achilles.

"I just would like her to get somewhere between two and four games in before the playoffs, so that she gets her rhythm back," Thibault said of Jones, averaging 13.1 points and 7.7 rebounds. "It's hard to come out and start a playoff series cold."

Though Jones isn't likely to play Friday, the Mercury will surely have their hands full with Tina Charles. Leading the league with 11.1 rebounds per game, Charles posted her 16th double-double with 20 points and 13 boards against the Mystics.

Charles is averaging 20.8 points and 15.3 rebounds during the Sun's four-game winning streak over Phoenix.

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