Silver Stars-Mercury Preview

The Phoenix Mercury are almost certainly headed for a playoff spot but surely would like to clinch it by knocking off the only team that can catch them. The Mercury will try to lock up their fourth postseason berth in five years Friday night when they host the short-handed San Antonio Silver Stars, who hope to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Phoenix (15-13) is third in the Western Conference, five games ahead of fifth-place San Antonio (11-19). With fourth-place Seattle having wrapped up a playoff spot, the only way the Silver Stars can make the playoffs is if they win all of their remaining four games while the Mercury lose their final six. San Antonio has won two of the teams' three meetings, and they play again Sept. 13 in Phoenix. The Silver Stars, losers of four of six, haven't missed the postseason since 2006. The Mercury are 5-2 since Russ Pennell replaced former coach Corey Gaines on an interim basis Aug. 8, matching the best start to a head coaching tenure in franchise history. They're 4-1 at home with Pennell after going 4-6 under Gaines. Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner each had 22 points as Phoenix took a step closer to the eighth playoff berth in franchise history with Saturday's 76-68 home win over Connecticut. With star Diana Taurasi struggling, Bonner has stepped up with 42 points on 16-of-27 shooting - including six 3-pointers - in the last two games. Dupree, averaging 17.9 points over her last eight games, matched her previous season high set in an 88-80 loss to San Antonio on July 10. Phoenix, however, turned the ball over 17 times Saturday, which could be a concern after committing 32 turnovers in two losses to the Silver Stars. "They are not anything that anyone is forcing as much as our focus isn't good on that," Pennell said. "So we need to try and solve that problem before the next game." The Silver Stars are coming off Saturday's 80-67 home loss to Los Angeles despite Jia Perkins' season-high 25 points. She's averaging 20.3 over the last three games. Perkins finished with 17 points while Danielle Adams and Danielle Robinson had 20 apiece in an 88-82 win over visiting Phoenix on Aug. 17 in the last meeting. Adams has averaged 18.0 in the season series. Robinson could miss a fifth straight game with a knee injury. Davellyn White had replaced her in the starting lineup but sat out Saturday with a leg injury, and the team announced Wednesday she is out for the season with a partially torn Achilles. Those absences, along with All-Stars Sophia Young and Becky Hammon remaining out with knee injuries, left coach Dan Hughes with a thin bench Saturday. "It was the small numbers," said Hughes, whose squad has dropped six of eight on the road. "You take Davellyn Whyte out and you can't play... so we're down to eight players." The Mercury hope to get Taurasi back on track after she totaled 26 points on 6-of-20 shooting in the last two games. The league's second-leading scorer (20.7 ppg) had 23 points and seven assists in San Antonio last month.