Barnes Working Back to Pre-Injury Form

After a 24-point blowout of a team, the New York Liberty, that entered the game with the best record in the Eastern Conference - on the Liberty's home court, no less - there was plenty of credit to go around for the Seattle Storm. Lost in that hoopla might have been the performance of forward Adia Barnes, who was hardly dominating statistically - she finished with five points and four rebounds - but, for the second straight game, might have put up her best performance of the season.

A bulky knee brace hasn't kept Barnes from playing her typically physical defense.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty
Barnes totaled just seven points during the Storm's first six games, but she's netted 10 in the last two. The performance is well-timed, given Storm Coach Anne Donovan's comments to the media about needing more production from her bench and particularly her backup wings.

Barnes didn't feel the comments were specifically about her.

"I think that she made a general statement to the team earlier that she needs more productivity off the bench and that we haven't been giving that as of late," said Barnes last weekend at practice, "and that's something the bench is really going to focus on doing - coming in and being the spark, not only defensively but offensively."

Donovan also challenged Barnes to some extent by using Alicia Thompson instead of Barnes as her first wing player off the bench last Friday in the Storm's victory over Connecticut. While Barnes understood Donovan's thinking, she also used the change as some form of motivation.

"I took it like, 'Well, the last two games I haven't been productive, so that's fine'," Barnes explained. "I don't really let that stuff bother me. That made me more focused on what I need to do and I came in and I feel like I played good defense and gave a spark."

After sitting and watching during the first half, Barnes ended up playing a key role during the game's second half, replacing Betty Lennox at shooting guard and playing 15 of the 20 minutes after halftime.

"Defensively, Adia had a ton of energy (Friday)," Donovan explained. "We felt like, as much as we were able to score, we weren't getting stops and couldn't pull away. We felt like we had to go with more defensive presence."

In addition to helping the Storm hold Connecticut to 37.9% shooting, Barnes had a rebound and a steal in the final 1:08 of the game as the Storm held off a late Sun charge. On offense, she was aggressive, shooting a season-high four free throws - as many as she'd shot to date in the season - and scoring five points.

That performance carried over in New York. Playing a season-high 20 minutes, Barnes scored five points, had a season-high four rebounds and hit her first three-pointer of the season. Coincidentally or not, the Storm was sparked by its bench, going on a run with Barnes, Tully Bevilaqua and Simone Edwards in the game that would get them back in the game. In the second half, the bench again shined, allowing the Storm to rest its starters without worrying about a Liberty comeback.

"I think that you've got to take shots to make shots, and in the past I wasn't taking any," said Barnes, explaining the recent offensive surge. "So (Friday) I shot an air ball, but I was like, 'Okay'. I'm living in the moment. That's done with. I'm going to keep on doing that and being aggressive. I think that helps the team. I think it hurts the team when I don't take an open shot, because then teams don't play me. I think that I was going up strong, I was trying to get to the free-throw line."

Barnes' recent performance has been a dramatic improvement over where she was during training camp. Coming back from surgery to repair her left ACL, torn last July, Barnes struggled with her jumper and her confidence. The drop-off was especially unfair after how hard Barnes had worked to make herself into an offensive contributor during the first half of the 2003 season, averaging 5.5 points per game and shooting an impressive 38.7% from downtown. The injury changed all that - temporarily.

"Those are things I'm going to get more comfortable with my knee as I do them," Barnes said, referring to offensive moves. "I do them to get comfortable with them."

Even when she's not as potent offensively as she was last season, Barnes can be a valuable contributor. She started 17 games in 2002, when she averaged just 3.5 points per game, on the strength of her defensive ability. That same defense has carried her so far this season, with Barnes continuing to do a fine job against players with apparent size or speed advantages.

"Not at all," said Barnes as to whether her defense has been affected by the knee. "I think that it's affected me more on the offensive end as far as timing and my shot, but I don't think defensively. I feel good and I think I'm playing good defense."

While Barnes can get by on her defense, she's a much more effective player and the Storm a much more dangerous team when she's scoring enough to essentially give the Storm a starter's production coming off the bench behind Lennox and Sheri Sam. That should only improve as Barnes becomes more comfortable with her reconstructed knee (as well as the bulky brace she is wearing) and time goes by. Barnes is still less than a year out from the injury, after all.

One thing Donovan and the Storm don't have to worry about in that role is Barnes' attitude. She's willingly accepted losing her starting role, both because of Barnes and the additions of Lennox and Sam.

"I think that I'm at the point where I'm patient, things are going to happen, and I'm always going to make sure I'm ready, regardless of who goes in first," Barnes said. "I don't let all that stuff bother me. I've been here before, done that, and it's just be ready when I do get called upon, because people are always going to have an opportunity, it's just a matter of when."