- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - The desert is a perfect place for this year’s WNBA All-Star Game. It’s where the most dominating basketball in the league has been played this season

The Phoenix Mercury enter the All-Star break on a franchise-record 12-game winning streak and have compiled a gaudy 18-3 record.

So the best players squaring off in Phoenix makes undeniable sense.

“It kind of matches the momentum of the team,” said West coach Cheryl Reeve of the reigning WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, “the excitement surrounding the team.”

Mercury stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner are starters for the West in Saturday’s game, with teammate Candice Dupree among the reserves. Taurasi makes her seventh All-Star appearance. Griner was supposed to start as a rookie last year but sat out the game because of injury. She enters the game off her second dunk of the season Tuesday night.

Taurasi said the game is a reward to the Mercury’s loyal fan base.

“This is one of the only places where they’ll never boo a player,” Taurasi said, “because they respect everyone so much.”

East All-Star reserve Chiney Ogwumike, a rookie with Connecticut, says the Mercury “are a great measuring stick” for the rest of the WNBA.

The Mercury drafted Griner No. 1 overall a year ago and were expected to dominate immediately. It didn’t happen. The team played better down the stretch and made it to the second round of the playoffs before being eliminated by the Lynx.

This season, the Mercury have been virtually untouchable.

“I just think they’re really, really good,” Reeve said. “They’ve kind of established themselves back to the media darling, maybe what was expected of them last year. They’re fulfilling those expectations.”

Taurasi said there are some years when a player wonders after loss after loss whether it’s worth it to keep playing.

This year, she said, has “been one of those (seasons) where after every game we just want to get back at it. “After every game, you want to get back in the gym and see each other.”

Atlanta’s Michael Cooper will coach the East team. The five-time NBA champion said women are better at the fundamentals of the game than their male counterparts.

“I think women have a greater understanding of the game,” he said, “simply because it’s played below the rim.”

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