Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm haven't won a playoff series since 2004.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
The Storm have also reached the playoffs for the sixth straight season, which is the second-longest active streak in the WNBA behind only the Detroit Shock (7).
And for the fourth time is six years the Storm are the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
These are all positive trends that along with the team’s star power -- namely Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson -- have made the Storm one of the more recognizable and celebrated franchises in the WNBA. But there is another, less desirable streak that has left the Storm and their fans sleepless in Seattle, and that is not being able to advance past the first round in the playoffs since their championship season of 2004, a year that also marked the only time in which Seattle posted a playoff series win.
Here it is 2009 and the Storm, coming off another strong regular season, find themselves in danger of another first-round ouster, as they have the unfortunate luck of facing a loaded Los Angeles Sparks team that has gotten hot at just the right time after a slow start, while Seattle has been hit with some untimely adversity. Their Western Conference Semifinal tips off Wednesday at Staples Center in L.A.
“It’s real for me,” said Seattle center Janell Burse about the playoff losing streak. “I was on that championship team and coming back the two years after that and not making out of the first round, it bugged me. That’s one of the main reasons I came back this year was because I believe we have a championship-caliber team. I just think it’s a matter of everybody playing together and focusing and coming in with a sense of urgency. I feel like we can beat anybody when we play that way.”
The Sparks have been a thorn in Seattle’s side for years now. L.A. eliminated Seattle in a series that went the distance last season as well as in 2006. And with Tina Thompson now added to the mix, Candace Parker at full strength, Lisa Leslie motivated to win a title in her final season, the Sparks should present problems for the Storm once again in 2009.
Last year’s early ouster probably hurt the most out of any since 2004, as it may have been Seattle’s best chance to not only get past the opening round, but to capture another championship. That's because the starting five in 2008 featured a WNBA great at every position: Bird, Sheryl Swoopes, Swin Cash, Jackson and Yolanda Griffith.
But the Storm, much like this year, which we’ll get into in a moment, were the victims of some bad luck. Seattle, already without Burse for the entire season as she recovered from nagging injuries, played the final 13 games of the regular season and the playoffs without Jackson, who missed time because of commitments to the Australia national team and surgery to her ankle. While Cash played the majority of Seattle’s games in 2008, a bad back limited what she could do late in the season. She came off the bench in all three games in last year’s playoff series versus the Sparks and averaged just 2.7 points and 3.7 rebounds. And Swoopes and Griffith, who are both out of the league at the moment, weren't nearly as effective down the stretch as the Storm had hoped as the miles they had accumulated over their basketball careers had begun to catch up with them.
This year, Seattle will again be without its best player in the first round, as Jackson, who has been sidelined since August 27 with a stress fracture in her back, has been ruled out for the series by head coach Brian Agler. That means that much like the latter months of the 2008 season the onus will fall on second-year forward Camille Little to score and work the boards down low, something she's proven to be capable of doing, just not at the rate of a superstar like Jackson.
Bird, who led the WNBA in assists per game this season with a clip of 5.8, missed the team’s last three games of the regular season with a sore neck, Tanisha Wright was sidelined for the team’s last game with soreness in her left Achilles and Katie Gearlds has been out since August 4 with a torn PCL.
While Gearlds remains questionable for the L.A. series, it appears Bird and Wright as well as Cash, who missed the team’s final two games for personal reasons, will be ready to go.
However dire the health situation on the Storm roster is, it will not garner them sympathy from any team in the league, as they are not the only team dealing with adversity at this point in the season. Nor does it change the fact that the Storm have not won a postseason series since 2004.
But Agler, in his second season as the Storm’s head coach, has only been around for one of the team’s first-round defeats, and his lack of long-term memory could work in Seattle’s favor.
“I don’t give that one ounce of thought.” said Agler.
The team’s leader on the court appears to have the same mindset.
"I think you guys like to talk about that a lot more than we do," said Bird. "It’s not something you hear in our locker room at all. Each year is different.
“We definitely as a franchise want to get past the first round, no doubt about that. You just have to take it one game at a time.”
It's hard to believe the Storm's playoff-win drought is not in the back of their minds, but they know the best way to get people to stop asking them about. Go out and win.