By: Kayla Mortellaro
PHOENIX--- A feeling unfamiliar to the Phoenix Mercury encompassed US Airways Center Friday night as the Los Angeles Sparks left the court winners, 78-68.
The Mercury are now on a three-game losing streak, and have dropped two-straight at home for the first time since July 10 and 14, 2013.
Right from the start of the game, the Mercury looked out of sync offensively as the Sparks hit their own offensive stride with All-Star Candance Parker back in the line-up.
"Teams are just outplaying us at the moment, we aren't executing the schemes as well as we want," head coach Sandy Brondello said after the game. "Once again we started off without the necessary energy to start a game and that is a concern for me."
At the halfway point, the Mercury was trailing by eight points, 38-30. Phoenix came out in the second-half with more energy to chip away at the Sparks lead. With 2:11 to play, the Mercury cut the lead to three points, but was unable to close the gap all the way.
"I think it starts with effort, just playing hard," Brondello said. "Obviously it is a long season, and we do rely on three players in particular. But everyone else, there is no excuse, just got to be the aggressor. We've had great chemistry, so I can't really blame it on that. Our schemes- we know our schemes. So, it's more about executing and mental focus going into the game."
The Sparks were able to dictate the pace of the game despite being without All-Star Nneka Ogwumike who did not travel with the team because of concussion-like symptoms. LA spaced the floor well and played effective team basketball. Parker had her sixth double-double in 10 games this year with 26 points and 10 rebounds on the night. Kristi Toliver added 17 points, and Jantel Lavender put up 15 points with 11 rebounds.
"Candance [Parker] really came to play tonight and produced some scoring tonight," Sparks head coach Brian Agler said. "I thought we played really good team basketball. I thought Kristi [Toliver] hit some really critical shots and free throws for us."
DeWanna Bonner had the tough task of guarding Parker all-night. Bonner admitted Parker is a tough player to guard, but that she could have done more.
"I think she was posting a lot," Bonner said. "I probably wasn't as physical as I should have been. She hit a couple of tough shots on the outside- we kind of gave her both [shots], which we can't do."
The Mercury were led by Brittney Griner's 20 points and six rebounds. Candice Dupree added 15 points and six rebounds, and Bonner added 13 points. For much of the game, the Mercury were shooting below 40 percent from the floor. They ultimately finished the night at 43.9 percent compared to the Sparks' 49.2 percent.
"We are beating ourselves," Griner said. "Not to take away nothing from the other teams, but we are beating ourselves right now."
The Mercury have lost their last three games by a combined 37 points (12-15-10), and it is their first three-game losing streak in their last 74 games.
In order to combat the lack-luster energy and offensive struggles, coach Brondello thinks her squad "needs to get a little angry."
For Griner, she knows her team is talented, it just boils down to executing.
"Everybody on the team can score, we just got to do it, we got to hit open shots," Griner said. "We can't go into the next game thinking about our losses, we just have to go into it with confidence."
The Mercury have a quick turnaround as they play host to their third Western Conference opponent in a row, the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday. So far this season, Phoenix is 2-1 against Minnesota, and 12-5 against Western Conference opponents.
"Look, I think it's resting more than anything, you know, just getting on the scout, moving our legs a little bit," Brondello said about the plan for the quick turnaround. "We know what we need to do. We have played well against Minnesota. But now it's just getting ready, getting our mind ready, getting our body ready."
Tip-off is Sunday at 3 p.m. at US Airways Center.
And despite the recent skid, the Mercury secured a playoff berth with a San Antonio Stars loss earlier in the night. The Mercury have now made it to the postseason 10 out of 19 seasons, and for the sixth time in the last seven years.