Sparks travel to face Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury – Daily News

The Sparks have already met the Phoenix Mercury twice this season, but their Western Conference rival will be a much different opponent Sunday.

Not only will WNBA legend Diana Taurasi return to the lineup, but the Sparks have played two games since their last meeting, an 80-66 Phoenix victory June 18. The Mercury, meanwhile, will be well rested without having played for nine days before their 3 p.m. matchup at Phoenix Suns Arena.

Since the Mercury (6-7) split two games in Los Angeles, the Sparks (6-7) have been trying to figure things out, losing a close one 76-73 to the New York Liberty and pulling one out 89-82 against the Washington Mystics.

“I think our team is just trying to figure out how to get it done together as things are constantly changing around them,” Sparks coach Fisher said.

Fisher harped on chemistry contributing to offensive struggles, alluding to the timing and comfortability among the team’s lineup while dealing with injuries.

Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike remain out of the lineup with knee injuries. Fisher said Chiney, who hasn’t played since May 18, might have a better understanding of her return next week. Meanwhile, Nneka continues her 4-6 week recovery timetable after suffering a Grade 2 knee sprain June 1.

Sparks guard Kristi Toliver (eye) and Bria Holmes (foot) are questionable for Sunday’s game. Without them, Los Angeles would possibly have only eight active players.

The Mercury, on the other hand, welcome back the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer. Taurasi fractured her sternum in a 78-86 loss to the Connecticut Sun on May 16, then played two more games before the injury was diagnosed.

In her five games this season, the former Don Lugo High star averaged 15.8 points, 3.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds. The Mercury went 4-5 in the stretch as she recovered.

“She makes our team better. I mean, this is Diana Taurasi,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said Saturday.

Taurasi said there’s no minutes restriction on her against the Sparks.

Next month, Taurasi and teammates Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith will sport the red, white and blue representing the United States for the Tokyo Olympics.

The Sparks will face the three Olympians six days after the official announcement contentiously left Nneka Ogwumike off the Olympic roster.

After Sparks center Amanda Zahui B.’s standout performance in Thursday’s win, she refuted any questions about the victory or her contribution. She wanted to speak only about Team USA’s decision.

“I think it’s straight up (bull),” Zahui B. said. “I think that they are playing her, and it is unacceptable.”

She noted she believes politics played a large role in the process. Without naming anyone specifically, Zahui B. said people who hold power in the decision-making process are too “emotional” and hold onto trivial grudges.

On Sunday, Zahui B.’s focus will be directed toward two-time Olympic gold medalist Griner. In the two matchups in Los Angeles, the Sparks struggled to contain Griner and Diggins-Smith.

Points in the paint and rebounds will likely be key factors. With Griner, the Mercury are a top-five team in points in the paint (35.4). In their win versus the Mystics, the Sparks pounded the paint for 40 points.

In both games against Phoenix, the Mercury outrebounded the Sparks. In fact, Los Angeles sits at the bottom of the WNBA in rebounds at 28.8 per game.

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