9:00 PM ET, August 26, 2010
After racing past opponents while racking up victories during an impressive July, the defending champion Phoenix Mercury are limping into the playoffs.Coach Corey Gaines isn't worried, though, and has confidence that Diana Taurasi can turn it up for another title run.A rested Taurasi and the second-seeded Mercury look to regain their offensive prowess in Thursday night's best-of-three series opener against the San Antonio Silver Stars.Led by Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Candice Dupree, Phoenix (15-19) topped the league in scoring with an average of 93.8 points. The team hasn't been playing up to its normal standards lately, however, and enters the postseason having lost six of seven while averaging 81.1 points.With the Western Conference's No. 2 seed secured, Gaines rested Taurasi for the final two regular-season games -- which included Sunday's 83-82 loss at San Antonio -- and played Taylor and Dupree limited minutes."We have players that are used to that famous month that's coming up for playing," Gaines told the Mercury's official website.Taurasi, held to a combined 20 points on 6-of-20 shooting in her last two games, has proven she can elevate her game for the playoffs. The league's reigning MVP led Phoenix past the Silver Stars (14-20) in the first round of last season's playoffs en route to the franchise's second title in three years.The five-time All-Star, who signed a contract extension Monday, led the WNBA in scoring for a league-record fourth straight year, averaging 22.6 points."My intention is to win a lot of championships in Phoenix," Taurasi said. "I'm happy to have this contract signed so we can focus on the playoffs and winning another title. We have a great nucleus of players to make a run at the championship this year."The Mercury looked poised to win another title with the way they were playing a month ago.Immediately before its slide, Phoenix had won nine of 11, averaging 104.3 points. That stretch concluded with the Mercury sweeping a home-and-home series from the Silver Stars, scoring 103 in each.While Sunday's loss in San Antonio meant nothing for Phoenix, it enabled the Silver Stars to clinch the third seed and set up a rematch.San Antonio, which went 2-2 against Phoenix in the regular season, has the difficult task of trying to slow down a Mercury offense that will be at full strength and must do it without Chamique Holdsclaw.The All-Star tore her Achilles' tendon against Minnesota on Aug. 15 and will not return for the playoffs. She was third on the team in scoring (13.6) and second in rebounding (5.3)."I don't think that any one person steps in and fills those shoes, but collectively we can all get in there and grab one or two rebounds more," said Becky Hammon, who averaged a team-best 15.3 points and a career-high 5.4 assists.Despite the loss of Holdsclaw, the Silver Stars finished the regular season with back-to-back wins after losing five of seven."We're playing our best basketball right now," said Hammon, who matched a season high with 30 points Sunday. "We're very happy about the position that we're in and we're looking forward to going into Phoenix and trying to steal one."