Aching Sun will have to earn this title

Mohegan - It has been customary for the Connecticut Sun to sip champagne on the days they've clinched their three previous Eastern Conference regular season championships.

If the Sun hang on to their lead this season, they may consider guzzling.

Because they sure will have earned it.

The Sun, who lead Indiana by two games heading to the final two weeks, have negotiated life without Olympian Asjha Jones quite well, amassing a 5-3 record while Jones rehabilitates a strained Achilles' tendon.

Now they may have to play a game or two - at some point - without Most Valuable Player candidate Tina Charles, who sat out Thursday's workout with what coach Mike Thibault called "hip and groin issues."

"We're trying to find out when the best time is to give her some time off," Thibault said.

Thibault and Charles will meet today to talk more.

"She's been pretty sore most of the year," Thibault said, "and it's catching up to her."

The schedule, however, remains unyielding. The Sun play Phoenix tonight at Mohegan Sun Arena (7 p.m., CPTV, CPTV Sports). Connecticut (20-7) has a magic number of six to clinch the regular season title.

The Sun completed a four-city road trip earlier this week in Washington, during which they went 3-1 to maintain their lead. They did so without Jones and forward Mistie Mims for two games.

"A lot of players playing big minutes are pretty beat up," Thibault said. "I know every team goes through it. But it takes an extra toll when you already have one person out."

Jones underwent an MRI on her Achilles Thursday to monitor the healing process. Thibault said she might be able to return next week during the Sun's road trip through Phoenix, Los Angeles and Seattle.

"There's been a toughness about this team," Thibault said. "Our maturity level has reached the point where it's 'OK, we'll figure out a way to win.' Part of it is that we don't let anybody dwell on (injuries) either. The games are still going to be there whether we like it or not.

"It helps a little when you know you are already in the playoffs. It may not be ideal and we may not get the best record, but I'd rather play well and be rested when the playoffs start than be worn out just because we were trying to win one or two more regular season games."

Phoenix (6-20) has played most of the season without its best players. Penny Taylor has been out all season, Diana Taurasi has played in six games and Candice Dupree 10 games. Point guard Samantha Prahalis injured her shoulder in Thursday's game at New York. Her status for tonight is unknown.

m.dimauro@theday.com

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