For the last dozen years, two of the 15 greatest players in the history of the WNBA have called Seattle home.
Over the last two, the Storm have learned how to do without one of them.
When the Storm -- who advanced to the Western Conference semifinals in 2011 before falling to rival Phoenix -- opened up their 2012 season, they did so while preparing to go without center Lauren Jackson for the second straight year. In 2011, surgery to repair a torn hip labrum injury knocked Jackson out of action from early June until late August, after which point the Storm won eight of their last nine regular season games to hurtle into the playoffs.
So when Jackson opted to miss the first half of the 2012 WNBA season so she could play with the Australian National Team heading into the Olympics, Seattle had a rough sketch of what it had to do to stay afloat until Jackson returned after the mid-season break. Play defense. Hit the outside shot. Give the ball to Sue Bird.
The Storm responded by losing seven of their first eight games. After dropping their first three, a win over Tulsa stemmed the slide, but a four-game losing streak followed -- including losses of 22, 13 and 16 points to Minnesota, San Antonio and Chicago, respectively, in mid-June. But, just like she did last year, Bird steered her team to safety.
She hit her first nine shots from the field in the Storm's win over Tulsa on June 15 and hasn't missed much since. Bird's certainly had some help as the Storm have won eight of their last 11 to jump back into the playoff race -- including five straight, starting with that win over the Shock (a stretch that saw Bird score 18.2 points with 3.8 assists and 4.0 boards a night) -- but few players, once again, have meant more to their teams than the Storm's longtime leader.
Aiding in the revival efforts in Seattle have been Tanisha Wright, who's keyed another season of league-best scoring defense in Seattle, and Ann Wauters, who's scored 10.3 points with 6.2 rebounds a night to help to fill Jackson's void. Meanwhile, 16-year veteran Tina Thompson's 10.6-point, 4.4-rebound averages have proven that, even if the Storm aren't playing on young legs anymore, they've still got some spark -- and some fight -- left, just in time for Jackson's return.
Even last season, when Lauren Jackson came back to help drive the Storm into the postseason, the three-time MVP and seven-time All-Star fell short of full-strength. So when she returns to the Storm on early next week, it'll be the first time Seattle's had even a mostly-healthy Jackson in two years.
Which is, of course, bad news for the West. Immediately, the addition of Jackson -- who finished third in scoring (15.9 ppg) and rebounding (7.9 rpg) among all players in London -- bolsters a Storm inside game that's wilted in front of bigger opponents thus far this year. Seattle's been out-rebounded by nearly three boards a game (33.5 to 30.8) and struggled to make shots on a consistent basis, relying on shots from outside the paint and sporting a 39-percent mark from the field to show for it.
They've defended well enough to stay in the West's top four -- and, thus, playoff position. With Jackson back, they have a chance to compete for the top two.
– Kevin Scheitrum, WNBA.com