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Pre-Season Preview: Phoenix Mercury Host The Japanese National Team

Tonight the Mercury began the season with a pre-season exhibition game against the Japanese National Team. The Mercury are still in the process of narrowing down the roster and this is the type of challenge that will help head coach Corey Gaines make some important decisions regarding the team going forward.

As of today the team has 18 players listed on the roster with forward Penny Taylor inactive with an injured knee.

The team will break in their flashy rookie Samantha Prahalis - the No. 6 Overall Pick in 2012 - as she continues to adjust to the professional game. Prahalis is a very confident guard that referred to herself as a unique woman's player similar to Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and "old school" Jason Williams after she was selected. The local basketball crowd would be very excited if she cashed in on that Nash comparison she gave herself.

Her ability to create in the open court will allow star Diana Taurasi to play off the ball and score in many different ways. As profiled on draft day, Prahalis is a pass-first point guard with all the tools to be one of the better point guards in the WNBA. The team will be without Taurasi who will report sometime next week after her camp in Seattle. She has been preparing all May for the Olympics.

Playing this game without the teams' star player will allow the younger players to get more of an opportunity to show their game.

This is an important game for the Mercury in making roster decisions as they have to get the team down to 10 total players. That number may include Taylor who the team has not yet received a roster exemption for her knee injury. Over the course of the next week or so the team will have to say farewell to between 9-10 camp invites that have been giving it their all to make the team.

On the other side of the court is the Japanese National Team. They have been getting ready for the Olympics as well, but here in Phoenix. The team is vying for one of five open spots in the London Olympics to join Angola, Australia, Brazil, China, Great Britain, Russia, and Team USA. In 2008 the Japanese Women's Team did not make either Group A or Group B as one of the 12 teams playing in Beijing.

It is a very talented group with guard Yuko Oga and center Maki Takada. The biggest challenge will be bottling up the teams prolific scorer Oga. She is a good three-point shooter and proved to be a clutch performer after leading her team in 2010 during the FIBA World Championships for Women. During that tournament she led the team scoring at 19.1 PPG in an impressive individual showing.

Takada may be a measuring stick for the Mercury bigs trying to make the roster. She is not a flashy player in the paint or a dominant one, but she gets the job done game-in-and-game-out.

Japan finished 7th in the Atlanta Olympic Games and 10th in the Athens Olympic Games while never finishing better than 5th in the Olympics historically. The team is currently ranked No. 16 overall in the FIBA Women's Rankings as of today.

That makes this game a nice challenge for the Mercury tonight. Don't miss out as the team rolls out their newest player and potential star Samantha Prahalis and get the season started off right!