The most dominant inside tandem in the WNBA looks like it will finally get its outside complement.
Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, is expected to make her season debut Sunday when the Phoenix Mercury host the Los Angeles Sparks in a high-profile showdown out west.
Taurasi has been recuperating from back surgery performed in April, and the 37-year-old and 10-time WNBA first-team selection was a full participant in multiple practices this week ahead of this contest. Her return could not come at a more opportune time for the Mercury (2-5), who are struggling to get offensive production beyond frontcourt stars DeWanna Bonner and Britney Griner and lack defensive cohesion on the perimeter.
“We’ve had a little fresh reminder these last couple of weeks of when you’re not ready to play and you’re on the court, bad things could happen, especially people who are competitive and want to play at all means,” Taurasi told The Athletic earlier this week. “There’s a balance of being smart, there’s a balance of wanting to be on the court and help, and the balance of feeling physically fit and physically strong enough to be on the court.
“When all those three factors are at a point where they feel like I could help on the court, I’ll be there.”
Bonner, the league’s leading scorer at 21.7 points per game, was held to nine on 2-of-12 shooting Friday night in Phoenix’s 69-54 loss at Dallas. Griner and Leilani Mitchell scored 11 points apiece, but the Mercury shot a horrid 24.6 percent and were outrebounded 49-28.
The Mercury were finally solid guarding the 3-point line as the Wings made just 5 of 22 from deep, but they are still allowing opponents to hit at a blistering 42.6 percent clip from beyond the arc.
Griner’s next blocked shot will be her 587th and will move her ahead of Lauren Jackson for third on the WNBA’s all-time list.
Los Angeles (4-5) has yet to get the bounce that comes with a returning superstar, as it has lost both games since Candace Parker fully recovered from a strained hamstring suffered during the preseason. Parker’s game rustiness has shown in both contests, as she is 2 for 18 from the field after a second straight 1-for-9 effort in Friday’s 84-62 loss at Seattle.
Some of that can be attributed to Parker playing at small forward, a move created by the Sparks acquiring Chiney Ogwumike from Connecticut in the offseason. Parker had six of her team’s 27 turnovers in her season debut, an 81-52 loss to Washington on Tuesday night, but she and the team cut down on those miscues Friday as she had one and the Sparks totaled 14.
For now, coach Derek Fisher is showing patience as everyone tries to get on the same page while he also figures out which personnel combinations work best with Parker back in the fold. That challenge has been made difficult with Maria Vadeeva away representing Russia at the EuroBasket tournament.
“It was obvious that a lot of our group expected things to happen because (Parker) is back, that just are not going to magically appear,” Fisher said. “It’s not fair to assume those things and place that burden upon Candace. And it’s also not fair to themselves and to our group, to just expect great things to happen because she’s out there.”
(Diana Taurasi photo courtesy Phoenix Mercury official Twitter account)