Talk about a quick career change. On Thursday morning Bridget Pettis was doing shooting drills with her Mercury teammates.
By the time the Mercury landed in Los Angeles for tonight's game against the Sparks, Pettis was the team's new assistant under Paul Westhead.
The eight-year pro moves to the bench 11 games into her return to the Mercury. With an already-crowded backcourt, there weren't many available minutes for the 35-year-old Pettis, who averaged 1.3 points and one assist per game this season.
"We talked about it earlier in the season," Pettis said. "It was more of a leadership role. I wasn't playing much but leadership was my part. It's a way of keeping things balanced out and I can still produce or help out."
Having Pettis as an assistant keeps the popular and entertaining guard around a young team, and, more immediately, opens up a roster spot for Penny Taylor's arrival from Europe this weekend.
For now, Pettis doesn't expect her role to change much from the teacher and cheerleader roles she's adopted during games.
As for the sudden end to her playing days . . .
"It's not a shock," she said. "With Penny coming back, decisions had to be made. I'm happy for the situation. I could have been cut. I'm glad to stay part of this team."
Crystal Smith hasn't been bestowed a nickname yet — though Diana Taurasi likened her to Sonic the Hedgehog — but as long as the rookie guard keeps up her recent play, one is inevitable.
The 5-foot-3 Smith is known as a pest. In each of the past two games her quickness, defense and reckless abandon has given the Mercury a surge of energy and production off the bench.
She's vaulted herself horizontally for loose balls, crashed into the basket twice and nearly had her head taken off by a midcourt pick while chasing down Minnesota point guard Amber Jacobs.
"It hasn't changed. it's been that way since college," Smith said. "In college I probably averaged six falls a game."
When she falls, the US Airways Center crowd rises, and she's willing to risk injury for the sake of another possession.
"I don't know how many home games we've had, but she's gotten a standing ovation in 75 percent of those games," Westhead said. "Even when she looks like she's out of control, sometimes you have to get out of control in order to achieve something, and she'll go to that limit. We're trying to get teams out of their comfort zone. Crystal does that all by herself."
Kristen Rasmussen often does the thankless work, but if not for her heads-up play, Cappie Pondexter may never have gotten a chance to fire her game-winning 3-pointer Wednesday.
Pondexter was the inbounder, but with Taurasi and Kelly Miller covered, Rasmussen broke off the play and ad-libbed enough to get herself open for Pondexter's inbounds pass. She immediately gave the ball back to Pondexter and screened enough of a Minnesota player for Pondexter to get the shot off.
"She's the ever-present pro," Westhead said of Rasmussen. "She made it happen on her own."
Forward Kayte Christensen was back with the team Thursday after missing two games for family reasons.
Mercury at Sparks
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
Radio: ESPN (860 AM)
Records: Mercury 6-7, Sparks 11-4
Series history: Phoenix is 8-25 all time against Los Angeles
Scouting report: Mercury — This is suddenly a matchup of two of the hottest teams in the league, and the Mercury are within a game of Sacramento for fourth place in the West. The league's highest scoring team has already scored more than 80 points in 10 games this season.
Sparks — Los Angeles had an eight-game winning streak snapped Wednesday, as Seattle won in L.A. without Lauren Jackson. The Sparks are still in first place in the Western Conference, and have a good chance to expand their one-game lead over Houston since they just started an eight-game homestand.