Series Preview: Seattle Storm (1) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (4)

Aug 23 2010 12:03PM
Which team will win the Conference Semifinal matchup between Seattle and Los Angeles?
Which team will win the Conference Semifinal matchup between Seattle and Los Angeles?
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The Seattle Storm (28-6) made a huge splash earlier in the season with a franchise-best (and near record-breaking) start of 22-3, but tended to taper off a bit down the home stretch picking up a total of four losses in the month of August, or more than half of the teamís regular season total. Of course, this is little consequence for the Storm as they head into the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Sparks (13-21) with the hopes of passing through the conference semifinals for the first time since the 2004 championship run.

After claiming a spot in the postseason back on July 22 and locking up home court throughout the playoffs with a win over the Mercury on July 27, head coach Brian Agler found himself in a position where he could afford to rest his starters in an effort to recharge and remain healthy for the 2010 postseason. Following two straight seasons in which MVP candidate Lauren Jackson missed the postseason due to injury, there was no sense in Agler taking a risk on LJ, Swin Cash or Sue Bird

Behind that trio of starters, the Storm paved its way through the Western Conference and closed out the season with a perfect 17-0 record in front of the home crowd at Key Arena. Birdís season averages of 11.1 points and 5.8 assists per game exemplified her work ethic and team-first attitude. Cashís 13.8 points and six rebounds per game shows she gives the Storm a reliable shooter and rebounder, second only to Jacksonís 20.5 ppg and 8.3 rpg.

Gm 1: at Seattle, Weds., 8/25, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Gm 2: at Los Angeles Sat., 8/28, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Gm 3*: at Seattle, Tues., 8/31, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Jacksonís season was nothing short of personal accolades either, as she racked up three Player of the Month and five Player of the Week honors, the latter of which allowed her to surpass Lisa Leslie for most in a career with a total of 19. However, Jacksonís hunger for another WNBA title supersedes that of any personal achievement and thereís no denying where her head is at now that sheís healthy and ready to play in her first postseason since 2007.

Losing All-Star Candace Parker to shoulder surgery only 10 games into the season left the Sparks looking for options to still put together a strong campaign and crack the postseason. Not even a week later, former Storm and 2004 Finals MVP Betty Lennox required knee surgery, ended her season early and putting the Sparks in an even deeper hole. However, behind the 36 years of combined experienced behind veterans DeLisha Milton-Jones, Ticha Penicheiro and Tina Thompson, the Sparks remained confident that they would soon find a way to piece it together and make a push for the playoffs.

Los Angelesí 4-13 first-half record left the Sparks in a bad place, buried at the bottom of the Western Conference and desperately in need of a turnaround. It may have taken a while, but the Sparks started to find their identity again heading into the month of July. The teamís 9-8 second-half run may not have turned many heads, but with the Storm cleaning up in the conference it allowed the Sparks to maintain a pedestrian record that ultimately enabled them to crack the top four.

In head-to-head play, the Seattle Storm swept the regular season series 5-0, a true indication that there is still some discontent for the Sparks after getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs in 2008 and 2009. While the Sparks may have a good amount of experience invested in three starters, the Storm has more experienced depth than the Sparks. With the exception of rookies Abby Bishop, Alison Lacey and Jana Vesela, no other players on the Storm possess less than three years experience in the league. Apply that same three-year window to the Sparks and you'll find six players have three or less years worth of experience. Not to mention, while the Sparks were battling for a playoff spot behind their regular starters, the Storm rookies were able to get a few minutes on the hardwood to shake off some of those rookie jitters in games that didn't carry much weight on postseason chances. It might not be much, but it still gives the Storm a slight edge.

Nothing comes easy in the WNBA, and no team knows that better than the Sparks. This teamís ability to battle back in the face of injuries and still make a postseason run stands as a true test of the teamís character. However, if the Sparks hope to wrap up the season with a championship trophy, they must first weather the Storm in Seattle.

2010 Regular Season: Seattle 5, Los Angeles 0
Some fast facts about the first-round matchup:
  • This marks the third straight year in which the two teams have met in the first round of the playoffs
  • In 2008 and 2009 the Sparks eliminated the Storm in the first round.
  • Both teams met on June 5 to play outdoors for the "Sunset Showdown" at the Home Depot Center Tennis Stadium in Carson, California
  • Seattle posted a perfect 17-0 record at home this season.
  • Lauren Jackson averaged 19.6 ppg over the five regular season meetings.
  • Tina Thompson averaged 15.4 ppg over the five regular season meetings.
Sunday, May 16, Key Arena, Seattle, WA: Storm 81, Sparks 67 | Box score
Seattle Leaders: Lauren Jackson (23 pts., 10 reb.), Swin Cash (17 pts., 6 reb.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Tina Thompson (19 pts., 8 reb.), Candace Parker (10 pts., 11 reb.)

Saturday June 5, Home Depot Center Tennis Stadium, Carson, CA: Storm 79, Sparks 75 | Box score
Seattle Leaders: Sue Bird (22 pts., 6 ast.), Lauren Jackson (17 pts., 9 reb.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Candace Parker (24 pts., 8 reb.), Tina Thompson (17 pts., 6 reb.)

Friday June 11, Key Arena, Seattle, WA: Storm 82, Sparks 60 | Box score
Seattle Leaders: Lauren Jackson (17 pts., 9 reb.), Sue Bird (15 pts., 5 ast.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Candace Parker (13 pts., 7 reb.), Tina Thompson (10 pts., 4 reb.),

Saturday, July 3, Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA: Storm 75, Sparks 62 | Box score | Highlights
Seattle Leaders: Lauren Jackson (20 pts., 8 reb.), Swin Cash (18 pts., 8 reb.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Kristi Toliver (18 pts., 5 reb.), Tina Thompson (11 pts., 10 reb.)

Saturday, August 21, Key Arena, Seattle, WA: Storm 76, Sparks 75 | Box score
Seattle Leaders: Camille Little (22 pts., 6 reb.), Lauren Jackson (21 pts., 6 reb.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Tina Thompson (20 pts., 6 reb.), Noelle Quinn (18 pts., 2 reb.)

See how the teams match up position by position

Sue Bird, G, Storm
11.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 5.8 APG
Note: Finished second in the league in assists.
Ticha Penicheiro, G Sparks
4.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 6.9 APG
Note: Finished first in the league in assists.
Tanisha Wright, G, Storm
9.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.5 APG
Note: Averaged a career-best in assists.
Marie Ferdinand-Harris, G, Sparks
8.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.2 APG
Note: Started 24 games this season.
Swin Cash, F, Storm
13.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG
Note: Played in all 34 games for the first time since 2006.
Noelle Quinn, F-G, Sparks
10.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.8 APG
Note: Averaged career-bests in points and rebounds.
Camille Little, F, Storm
10.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.4 APG
Note: Started all 34 games for the second straight season.
Tina Thompson, F, Sparks
16.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.8 APG
Note: Became the WNBA's all-time leading scorer this season.
Lauren Jackson, C, Storm
20.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.19 BPG
Note: Playing in her first playoff series since 2007.
DeLisha Milton-Jones, F, Sparks
15.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.5 APG
Note:Participating in her ninth WNBA playoffs.