The Phoenix Mercury have proven they can be an average rebounding team and still succeed. Being way below average, though, is a legitimate concern.

“We’ve never been the best offensive rebounding or defensive rebounding team,” DeWanna Bonner said Tuesday. “In order for us to win and get more shot attempts, we’ve got to get the rebounds.”

Actually, the Mercury have won big without great rebounding for six consecutive years, reaching the WNBA playoffs semifinals every season since 2013. They’ve been no higher than sixth in total rebounding during that stretch but now, almost halfway through this season, are 12th (aka last) even with the league’s tallest player, 6-9 Brittney Griner, at center.

The Mercury were outrebounded by a combined 93-50 in their past two games with five players (three from Connecticut, two from Minnesota) recording double-doubles. They are not good enough, especially without Diana Taurasi as a perimeter threat, to be dominated like that on the boards and have any chance at a championship.

At 7-8, Phoenix is currently holding the final playoff spot and could just as easily slip below the eighth-place cutoff as make a run up the tightly packed standings.

“It’s not technique, it’s just hard work,” the 6-4 Bonner said of the rebounding fix. “You’ve just got to go do it.”

“It’s just heart,” Griner said.

Bonner and Griner are 1-2 in WNBA scoring and 7-12 in rebounding. Both are going to the WNBA All-Star Game on July 27.

They can’t carry the Mercury alone, and WNBA scoring leader Taurasi is doubtful again after making a one-game return from back surgery. “We just want her to get (fully) healthy,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello. “She needs to feel she can just go out there and be Diana. We’ll give her the support she needs and hopefully she’ll be back sooner than later.” 

Power forward Sancho Lyttle re-injured her left knee Friday and on Tuesday was ruled out for 4-6 weeks with a bone bruise. Lyttle missed half of last season with an ACL tear in her left knee and now might not return until

That leaves veteran Camille Little and rookies Alanna Smith and Brianna Turner as post options off the bench and puts pressure on the guards to help with rebounding.

“It’s a focus to me,” Brondello said. “You’ve just got to do it. It’s a physical battle, and we weren’t physically ready and focused. You can’t win doing that kind of stuff. Too many extra possessions. It’s on us.”

The Mercury worked extensively Tuesday on ball movement, looking for easier baskets to boost their scoring average from the current 73.4 (10th in the league). More buckets means fewer rebounds to worry about for a team averaging just 6.8 offensive boards.

“It’s being the aggressor,” Brondello said. “Just play basketball, movement. It’s being hard to guard when you’re moving and maybe with the cutting we’re closer to the basket too and not standing, generate a little energy in that regard. We need to find ways to score other than our Big Two.

“It’s a responsibility of the perimeter players to be a little bit more aggressive. That doesn’t mean looking to shoot every time they get it, it’s just being a threat.”

The Mercury play a camp matinee Wednesday against Dallas, to whom they lost 69-54 on June 20 while being outrebounded 49-28 and shooting just 24.6 percent.

That was a month ago and the Mercury are 5-3 since yet in critical areas still remain in the same place. 


Brittney Griner, DeWanna Bonner on Phoenix Mercury rebounding problems
Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral sports

Up next

Dallas Wings at Mercury, 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Talking Stick Resort Arena, Fox Sports Arizona — The second of four meetings vs. the Wings, who won the first 69-54 on June 20. The Mercury (7-8) are on a two-game losing streak. Dallas (5-11) has lost two straight and four of its last five games. 

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8053. Follow him on Twitter @jeffmetcalfe.

Support local journalism: Subscribe to today.