Storm Chasers Don’t Concern Seattle’s Wright

It’s never a good feeling to constantly be looking over your shoulder. That, however, is life in the WNBA and across all sports, as the best teams always have to stay one step ahead.

In recent weeks, the Seattle Storm have had to play even harder to keep their second-place spot in the West. With the Los Angeles Sparks surging up the standings and right on their tail, Storm players, including guard Tanisha Wright, are concerned with only one thing: themselves.

“It’s important just for us to get better and to focus on ourselves,” Wright said. “We can’t really worry about L.A. and who’s coming. We can worry about ourselves and I think that’s what we’ve been focusing on.”

Seattle is 16-11, two games behind the Phoenix Mercury (18-9) and two ahead of the Sparks (14-13) in the win column. Their three-game win streak has helped keep them in front of Los Angeles, who has a league-best six straight wins heading into Thursday’s game against the Mercury. With just seven games remaining, Wright knows it’s important to hold the Sparks off to get home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

“Everybody knows that home-court advantage is always a good thing in the playoffs,” she said. “Everybody wants that little extra advantage.”

Wright is one of the reasons the Storm have been a top team in the WNBA this season. The former Penn State standout is part of a roster filled current and former All-Stars, yet she’s also played a key role in her team’s success. Wright is averaging a career best 11 points, four assists and four rebounds per game; not to mention, her shooting percentages are all way up. She is confident that this is only the beginning.

“I definitely don’t think I’ve hit my peak,” Wright said. “I think that I have room to improve and that I can get better, and hopefully I’ll continue to do that this year and next year.”

The 25 year old has spent her entire career in Seattle, who drafted her 12th overall in 2005. That season, the Storm were coming off their first championship in franchise history and Wright was just another piece of the puzzle to get them a second.

“It was fun because the expectations were high and they expected a lot from themselves, so coming into a team like that was a lot of fun,” Wright said. “It wasn’t necessarily pressure, but the intensity and the effort and everything that we put forth was a fun year because you can see how much they wanted to repeat.”

The Storm have made it to the playoffs each season since winning the WNBA title in 2004. All four appearances, however, have ended with losses in the conference semifinals. Wright believes this team can go further.

“We’re looking to just keep going and continue to go in the right direction as far as getting better as a whole,” Wright said. “I also think we’re a balanced team.”

That balance is in thanks to not only Wright, but All-Stars Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and Swin Cash, who won the game’s MVP honors. All are averaging double figures this season, with Jackson third in the league in points (19.3 ppg) and Bird leading all players in assists (5.8 apg). With Jackson (back) sidelined for an uncertain amount of time, the Storm are depending on players such as Wright, center Janell Burse and forward Camille Little to step up.

While Wright’s teammates have been stars since they arrived in the WNBA, she’s had to wait to for her chance. That mixture of patience and hard work paid off this season as she was named the Storm’s starting guard. Wright also attributes some of her success to second-year head coach Brian Agler.

“He’s just allowed me to get out there and play my game and play at a speed that I’m comfortable,” she said. “He allowed me to play throughout my mistakes; it has really helped.”

Agler will be counting on Wright and her teammates to help take the Storm to another title, and they may be set up perfectly to do so. Four of the last five games for Seattle are at home, where they’re 11-3 in 2009. Wright believes this could be critical to their success in the postseason.

“It’s always good to have some momentum heading into the playoffs, if you’re lucky enough to make it. So the fact that we can play some games here before we get into the playoffs will be nice.”

Maybe looking over your shoulder isn’t that bad after all.