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Dream-Mercury Preview

Sep 5, 2009 - 6:35 AM By ALAN FERGUSON STATS Writer

Atlanta (17-14) at Phoenix (21-10), 10:00 p.m. EDT

Last season, the Phoenix Mercury and Atlanta Dream were two of the WNBA's worst teams. They enter Saturday night's matchup in Phoenix having already engineered remarkable turnarounds.

After finishing 16-18 and in a tie for last in the Western Conference a year ago, the Mercury (21-10) can clinch their second regular-season conference title in three years with a win Saturday, coupled with a Seattle loss in Minnesota.

The expansion Dream (17-14) endured the worst season in league history with a 30-loss inaugural campaign. Now, with a win over the Mercury, Atlanta would all but wrap up a playoff berth.

Phoenix enters Saturday's play with a two-game lead over Seattle. Atlanta is second in the East, two games ahead of Chicago and Washington in fourth.

Both teams enter this matchup on a roll. Friday night's 98-90 win in Sacramento was the 10th in 14 games for the Dream, who also improved to 3-3 without starting forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who is recovering from knee surgery.

After losing twice to open its five-game road trip, Atlanta has won its last two. The Dream shot a season-high 64.3 percent in Friday's victory. Erika de Souza had a team-best 27 points and 13 rebounds, and leading rookie of the year candidate Angel McCoughtry added 26 points - nine in the fourth quarter.

"We're alive this year after struggling last year and losing a lot of close games," coach Marynell Meadors said. "This year, we have a lot of depth and balance, and it showed tonight. We're a solid team this year that has persevered."

McCoughtry, who leads all rookies with 12.2 points per game, has averaged 20.3 in her last seven games. Iziane Castro Marques has taken over the team's scoring lead in Holdsclaw's absence (14.4 ppg) by averaging 21.7 in the last six contests.

Both players led the Dream in their 106-76 home blowout of the Mercury on July 30. McCoughtry scored 17 points to lead six players in double figures, and Castro Marques added 16 in the franchise's highest scoring game.

Atlanta also held Phoenix - the league's top scoring and shooting team - to 11 points in the first quarter and a 39-percent effort from the floor.

The Mercury has averaged 99.5 points in winning three of four. Cappie Pondexter's 25 points led the way in Wednesday night's 106-90 road win over East champion Indiana.

"We were focusing on ourselves," Pondexter said. "It was a good test for us."

Pondexter scored a season-low two points on 1-of-8 shooting in the loss to the Dream in July. Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, the WNBA's leading scorer, shot 4 of 13 and finished with 11 points.

Taurasi has averaged 20.6 points this season, while Pondexter's 19.4 points per game rank third in the league.

Taurasi scored 21 to lead six Phoenix players in double figures in a 110-84 home win over the Dream on July 19, 2008.