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Sparks-Mercury Preview

Jun 3, 2010 - 6:00 PM By KATE HEDLIN STATS Writer

Los Angeles (1-4) at Phoenix (2-3), 10:00 p.m. EDT

With a season-opening win over the Los Angeles Sparks, the Phoenix Mercury showed why they are the defending WNBA champions.

Since then, only Los Angeles has been a bigger disappointment than Phoenix in the Western Conference.

The Mercury (2-3) host the Sparks (1-4) on Friday night as both teams try to snap out of early slumps.

Phoenix defeated Los Angeles 78-77 on May 15 in a rematch of last season's West finals. Penny Taylor's two free throws with 1.5 seconds remaining lifted the Mercury in a matchup of teams that looked like they would once again be among the WNBA's best.

Neither club, however, has played like the league's elite. The Sparks own the worst record in the WNBA while the Mercury are three games behind conference-leading Seattle.

Phoenix has dropped two in a row, falling 92-82 at Minnesota on Tuesday. Diana Taurasi scored 21 points and Taylor added 15, but the Mercury were outscored 28-17 in the third quarter and shot 37.3 percent for the game.

"That seems to be our story so far is playing a good half here and there, but that's not good enough," said Taurasi, who was hit with a technical in the fourth quarter for protesting a call. "That's something we really need to clean up if we want to get anywhere this year."

Phoenix, allowing a league-high 91.2 points per game, started the 2008 season 2-4 before finishing last in the West. Despite a similarly slow start this year, the Mercury aren't panicking as all but one team in the conference owns a losing record.

"It's a long season," coach Corey Gaines said. "We're still getting together and trying to jell."

Candace Parker and the Sparks are also struggling, matching their 2009 start as the worst in franchise history.

Los Angeles lost 101-82 to Atlanta on Sunday. Parker piled up 33 points and 12 rebounds but Los Angeles gave up 59 points after halftime.

"We just came out flat in the second half," Parker said. "Unfortunately it's becoming a trend that we have to fix quickly. Defensively, we weren't playing with a lot of heart or a lot of effort."

Parker was named Western Conference player of the week after notching her second straight game with at least 30 points.

The forward shot 60.5 percent from the field in the two games last week after averaging 42.9 percent in her first three contests. She scored 24 points against the Mercury in the opener.

The Sparks' next game is Saturday at the Home Depot Center Tennis Stadium, an outdoor matchup with the Storm.