While things in Mercury-land aren't exactly peachy keen, at least this is about as low as the team can go. Well, technically they could go a game lower and fall into last place in the Western Conference, but as far as spirits and heartbreak, the team is at rock bottom. No one seems to have answers, either. As Coach Gaines said in the postgame conference after Wednesday's disappointing defeat, "Maybe basketball Gods will give us taps or touches on the other side of the all-star break. You never know."
It is uncertain whether or not the team is just going through an unlucky streak or if the team just isn't what it used to be. The effort and intensity is there, and save for a few possessions here and there, the Mercury don't seem to be doing anything drastically wrong. However, that's the rub: the team isn't doing anything particularly wrong.
Sure, there are a few missed box outs, a couple botched layups here and there, but that shouldn't have as much of an impact as it is. For multiple stretches of Wednesday's game, the Mercury were just plain beaten. That's not to say they couldn't have won; they could have snatched the victory. The Mystics just proved to be the better team, and I think that was the most disappointing part of it.
Many of the Mercury players and management understand that sometimes, the chips don't fall your way. However, with the losing streak extended to six games and frustration nearing a boiling point, the excuses have begun to creep out. There has been griping about the officiating, complaints about the multiple injuries and maladies the team is enduring, and blame thrown to just plain bad luck.
But the Mercury know better.
Diana Taurasi voiced her opinion on the subject: "We're just falling short. I don't necessarily think we got out-played. We've been playing hard, we've been doing a lot of good things. Right now, we're just getting unlucky, and certain things aren't going our way, but we have to stick with it."
Things may not be going their way, but the only way to endure such a disappointing stretch is to stick with it. In each of the Mercury's championship campaigns (2007 and 2009), June was the worst month of the summer, with the team posting a combined 11-10 record over both seasons. July proved to be much kinder to the team, with a combined record of 16-5 being turned in to end the disappointment. The Mercury can only hope that history is bound to repeat itself.
Cappie Pondexter is returning to Phoenix, just not as a member of the home team. Tonight's game marks the first time in Pondexter's career that she will play in Phoenix without donning the Mercury uniform. When asked if returning to town as a member of a different team feels different, Cappie replied, "Definitely, there's a lot of memories here, a lot of great memories, and to be here for so long...it's special, but at the same time, it's business."
Historically, the Mercury and the Liberty have played each other evenly. Over the past five years, the Mercury have had the slight edge, recording a 5-3 record over that span. This season, the Liberty currently sit at fifth place in the much more competitive Eastern Conference, with a record of 7-7.
New York seems to be figuring out how to play together, as well. "It's a new team," said Pondexter of the team's inauspicious start. "You know, I didn't expect for us to come right away. We didn't have training camp, and we're starting to get it. For me, my motto isn't about how we start, but it's about how we finish. We're starting to play New York basketball, and that's what we're looking at."
There's no doubt that the fifth year guard that helped lead the Mercury to its two championships will receive a warm welcome, and rightfully so. But if the Mercury intend to turn the season around, it's got to start by beating the New York Liberty. It's got to come at the expense of spoiling Cappie's homecoming.