‘Big Game’ On Tap For Storm

In Lennox's Absence, Storm Turns to Wright
Orange and Oatmeal on the Staley Trade
Storm News Archive
Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | August 8, 2005
Like all coaches, Seattle Storm Head Coach Anne Donovan is loath to place extra importance on an individual game. So it was a bit of a surprise when she ended the Storm's post-practice huddle Monday afternoon by telling her team, "Big game tomorrow. Be focused."

When she met with the media minutes later, Donovan repeated the sentiment about the Storm's matchup with the Houston Comets tomorrow at KeyArena (7:00 p.m., KJR 950 AM, ).

"I think we match well with Houston. I think I'm looking forward to this matchup."
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
"It's big," she said. "It's an opportunity to go into second place. We'll see what we can do, probably without Betty (Lennox). We're here at home; obviously we're playing better at home than we are on the road, so it's one more thing we have to take advantage of. I think we match well with Houston. I think I'm looking forward to this matchup. Last time in Houston, we didn't have Izzy (Castro Marques)."

With less than three weeks left in the WNBA regular season, the Storm and Comets are battling for the second seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Houston comes in with a half-game lead after both teams lost twice late last week, but two contests this week - they also play Sunday in Houston - will go a long ways towards determining playoff positioning.

"I'm sure they're saying the same thing - 'Oh, we're lucky Seattle's losing,'" said Storm guard Sue Bird. "And we're saying, 'We're lucky Houston lost last night.' It's really every game. Every game right now the rest of the season is against Western Conference teams, so with every game, every win, every loss, people are moving. We've got to take it one at a time, starting with the first one. Hopefully we can get that win and move up into second."

The teams have split two matchups so far this season. Way back in May, before the Comets were considered legit contenders for home-court advantage, the Storm came from behind with a big second half for a 79-69 win at KeyArena. On June 28 in Houston, without Castro Marques because of league suspension and without Lauren Jackson for most of the second half, the Storm dropped a 71-67 decision.

However, the Comets team that takes the KeyArena floor tomorrow night will have two significant changes from the Houston team the Storm has faced twice thus far. The Comets played those games without Olympian forward Tina Thompson, who gave birth just before the start of the season and returned to action on July 21. Thompson, playing her way back into shape, has averaged just 10.4 points and 4.0 rebounds, down from 20.0 and 6.0 a year ago, and the Comets have faced some difficulty integrating her back into the lineup. But the Storm is well aware how much more dangerous Thompson, who averaged 15.5 points over a recent four-game stretch, makes Houston.

"All the pick-and-pop they do with Tina is far different from what they do with anybody else that they've had on that roster, and it's lethal," said Donovan.

"She's just a great player," said Bird. "They run the pick-and-roll with her and Sheryl (Swoopes) - pick your poison. What are you going to give up? It's hard. She rebounds, she's shooting the ball really well. She's an All-Star in this league, one of the best players in the world."

The Comets upgraded again a week ago, pulling off a shocker just before the WNBA's trade deadline. Houston sent forwards Adrienne Goodson and Kristen Rasmussen and their 2006 first-round pick to Charlotte for Olympian guard Dawn Staley and a second-round pick. Considering the Comets have traditionally been weak at point guard dating back to the late Kim Perrot, the pickup might have been a perfect fit.

"I have a great deal of respect for Dawn. I just think she's such a heady point guard. It doesn't matter if her body slows down, her brain is still so dangerous."
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty
(The deal looks even better a week later after Dominique Canty, who had started all 26 Comets games at the point, suffered a knee injury and missed Sunday's 55-45 loss at Sacramento, allowing Staley to make her first Comet start. Canty is listed as day-to-day.)

"I have a great deal of respect for Dawn," said Donovan, who coached Staley for two seasons in Charlotte. "I just think she's such a heady point guard. It doesn't matter if her body slows down, her brain is still so dangerous. Her mind for the game is dangerous. Then there's her infectiousness for other people. If there are any chemistry issues, Dawn is going to sort them out. From that standpoint, she brings something very valuable to that team."

Bird, who backed up Staley on the U.S. Olympic Team in Athens this time a year ago, knows as well as her coach what Staley brings to the Comets.

"I don't think Dominique Canty is necessarily a pure point guard," said Bird. "She's more of a slasher, driver, scorer. So you have Dawn on the court, who is a point guard, who can get people in their places and set the team up and run the offense and all those sorts of things. And she's so smart. Dawn, Sheryl, Tina - that's three starting Olympians right there."

Indeed, this game has an Olympics feel to it. Houston Coach Van Chancellor was assisted by Donovan in Athens, with Bird, Swoopes, Staley and Thompson on their roster. There are members of the Brazilian National Team on both sides - guard Janeth Arcain for Houston, Castro Marques for the Storm - and Seattle also boasts the Australian duo of Jackson and Suzy Batkovic and Russian Natalia Vodopyanova for a total of 11 players or coaches who participated in the 2004 Olympics.

Adding to that is the fact that Chancellor's playbook in Houston bears more than a passing resemblance to the one he uses internationally.

"They're the exact same plays," said Bird. "He doesn't even change the calls."