The two-game home-and-away series the Mercury have with the Indiana Fever this week (with Chicago thrown in the middle on Tuesday) will be the final big test before the playoffs.
The Merc have all but wrapped up the second seed in the West and the final home game of the season against the ridiculous 24-4 Seattle Storm on the 20th will likely not mean much in the standings and sets up to be a classic end-of-season, rest-your-starters game.
The Fever (17-10) have a slim grasp on first place in the East with Atlanta (18-11) nipping at their heels, so this will obviously be an important game for them as well.
Indiana still features all-world super player, Tamika Catchings (averaging 17 points and seven rebounds) and uber-tough girl Katie Douglas (14 points, 40 percent 3-pointers). Local ASU star Briann January is splitting time at the point with Tully Bevilaqua and giving the Fever a scoring punch and burst of speed off the bench.
With both Tammy Sutton-Brown and one of the great characters in all sports, Ebony Hoffman, starting in the front court, the Fever are big and yet they are only a middle of the road rebounding team with a -1.26 differential which puts them just ahead of the Mercury (-1.89).
But the bottom line comes down to the classic offense-versus-defense battle, just as it did in the five-game finals series last October. The Fever are holding teams to a league-best 72.89 points per game while the Mercury once again are setting a blistering pace at 97.19 per game.
Even that great season average is lower than the more recent performance. In totaling 103 points on Friday against the Silver Stars, the Mercury have surpassed their season scoring average in 11 of their last 12 games (101.8 points per game). It was also the Mercury's 10th 100-point game of the season, breaking their own WNBA record (2009) with their ninth back-to-back 100-point outing in franchise history.
So, this is a good test for Kara Braxton against some of the league's top post players and for the Mercury a tune-up and measuring stick for the playoffs. Indiana is disciplined, well-coached and clearly a fantastic defensive team.
I also hope to see continued improvement from Tangela Smith. Anyone who reads my Mercury coverage on a regular basis (and my poor wife who gets to listen to my rants) knows I am not a big fan of her play this year.
Despite a great shooting night on Friday (7-for-9), she continues to struggle with her shot, but that's irrelevant as long as her defensive activity level is high. It has been much better of late and she looks to be picking up steam headed into the playoffs.
It's hard to watch a player both missing shots on one end and giving a lethargic performance on the other. Fortunately, Smith seems to resolving at least one of those two issues.