Aaron Last/Storm Photos
Storm Taking Motivation From Doubters
Members of the Seattle Storm might have figured they were done answering questions about Lauren Jackson's absence. After all, the Storm has played eight games and it has been nearly a month since Jackson announced she was going to undergo surgery on her right ankle, sidelining her for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs. And it's been 13 games and more than two months since Jackson last suited up. Nonetheless, with the start of the postseason, players and Head Coach Brian Agler have again faced questions about Jackson, this time with an apparent subtext: Do you really believe you can win without the two-time WNBA MVP?
Combine Jackson's absence with the star-studded roster boasted by the opposing Los Angeles Sparks and the result has been a trendy upset pick.
"Even though we're the number two seed," said Storm guard Sheryl Swoopes, "I still think we're the underdog."
That's not necessarily a bad thing. While the playoffs provide sufficient motivation by themselves, the Storm is taking a little something extra from what the team hears on TV or reads in the paper.
"I think there are certain things that you listen to and then I think there are other things that you really don't pay attention to," said Swoopes, who watched the ESPN2 broadcast of last Sunday's game against L.A. while resting at home. "It's kind of hard not to when you're sitting back home and you're watching the game on television and you hear the Doris Burkes and the Carolyn Pecks and the Pam Wards and the Nancy Liebermans, when you hear them all saying, 'Absolutely not, no way, no how is Seattle going to beat L.A.'
"If that's not enough to motivate you, then you shouldn't be playing the game."
"It's not something we sit around and talk about," said Agler, "but I also think that our players read the papers and hear the talk. I do know that we have a lot of competitors on our team."
The talk about Jackson's absence is to be expected because of her otherworldly ability. However, the Storm had already seemed to have answered a lot of the questions by going 8-5 in the last 13 games without Jackson. During that stretch, the Storm actually won at a better clip than with Jackson both at home (4-0 vs. 12-1) and on the road (4-5 vs. 2-6). While the team's schedule lightened with Jackson, with eight of the 13 games coming against non-playoff foes, nine of the 13 were on the road.
"I think it's almost like they're saying, with every win we get, it's lucky or whatever, it's not really legitimate," said Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson. "But if you look at our record, we were 22-12 and probably one turnover away from being 23-11. We were in every game. This is one of the best teams that we've had here in Seattle."
"I expected us to do well (without her)," he said. "Lauren is a heck of a player. She's as good as there is in the world. With her, we are obviously a great team, but we can also be a great team in our right without her.
"We just tried to absorb as much as we can throughout the team - not having one person step up to take on what we lose with Lauren, but other people doing things, whether it was Yolanda (Griffith) playing more minutes and getting more rebounds and scoring more or it was Camille (Little) coming in and getting a starting position or Sue (Bird) picking up her scoring or Swin (Cash) playing more minutes and being more of a versatile player playing the three and the four, Ashley (Robinson). There's a number of things that I think different individuals on our team have taken upon themselves to absorb some of the loss we had with Lauren."
While the arrival of the playoffs means having to answer those questions about Jackson again, it's also a chance for the Storm to show fans around the league - and maybe some experts - what they might have been missing.
"I'm excited to see how our team's going to play," concluded Agler. "We've had the ability to play without Sue and Yo the last two games, without Sheryl the last three games, without Swin the last three games, without Lauren for the last 13 games. I really believe that we're going to be extremely competitive. I think people are going to be surprised. Not the people necessarily in Seattle, because the people in Seattle have seen it all year long. I think the people around the country will be surprised at how competitive we can be."