Insider Preview - Storm vs. Houston

0-0 RECORD 0-0
77.8 PF (2006) 73.7
102.7 Off. Eff. 98.2
75.7 PA 72.0
99.6 Def. Eff. 95.0
33.8 RPG 33.1
.517 Reb % .494
Storm (0-0) vs. Houston (0-0)
Saturday, May 19, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 1150 AM KKNW
Promotion: 2007 Storm Magnet Schedule courtesy of Starbucks Coffee and “Get Struck” rally bracelet for first 5,000 fans.
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Kevin Pelton,

Throughout the Seattle Storm's training camp, Head Coach Anne Donovan has emphasized the goal of getting better every day. That goal won't culminate until the end of the season, but Saturday's Opening Night against the Houston Comets is an important milestone.

"We've been really focused on getting better every day," Donovan said after Friday's practice, "and now is our opportunity to really test that against a good team in the league. Just take the next step, which to me should translate into a win."

After three and a half weeks of practice and three exhibition games, Donovan is ready for the Storm to take on a WNBA opponent in a game that counts.

"Very excited about it," she said. "I think we've been working very hard. Sue (Bird) and Lauren (Jackson), I don't think they're fully integrated yet, but they're mighty good where they are. So I'm looking forward to getting out there against somebody else, just getting a gauge of where we are at this point of the season."

In the opener, the Storm will face a team that has been a challenge in recent seasons, the Houston Comets. Houston defeated the Storm 2-1 in their first-round playoff series in 2005 and swept last year's season series 3-0, including an 84-59 blowout in the Storm's second game of the season. However, this year's Comets have a very different look. While the All-Star frontcourt trio of Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and Michelle Snow returns, Karleen Thompson has replaced Van Chancellor on the sidelines and the shooting guard is almost entirely new.

"They're a different ballclub, but they've still got the same star players," said Storm rookie Katie Gearlds.

Chancellor, the league's last original coach, departs after 11 seasons, 10 trips to the playoffs and four WNBA Championships. Thompson, his replacement, is an experienced WNBA assistant, but her only head-coaching experience came during the second half of the 2004 season with Los Angeles.

"It will be interesting to see her style," said Donovan. "Karleen has been a part-time head coach in L.A. after Coop (Michael Cooper) left and has been an assistant coach for a number of people and done a really good job. Very well respected among the players."

Third-year guard Roneeka Hodges is the only Comets guard with any WNBA experience. Houston placed second-round pick Dee Davis, who had been projected to start at the point, on the inactive list Friday afternoon. That could be an indication the Comets will go with Erin Grant, who was the Storm's third-round pick in 2006 but failed to make the team, and first-round pick Ashley Shields at the point.

Shields, the first junior college player ever to be taken in the first round of the WNBA Draft, is something of an enigma to the Storm.

"We've seen her on tape a little bit, but she's a capable, athletic point guard," Donovan said. "Not really having a complete handle on her yet will make the game fun. We'll have to make adjustments as we go."

Houston's domination of the Storm has been led by its veteran frontcourt. Last year, led by Thompson's 23.7 points per game, the group combined for 51.7 points per game against the Storm, 60.3 percent of the Comets total. However, veteran guard Dawn Staley (who retired at season's end) was setting things up and Dominique Canty (who signed with Chicago as a free agent) had been a thorn in the Storm's side, scoring 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the May 23 Houston blowout win.

Canty, Staley and Tamecka Dixon combined to give the Comets 24 years of experience in last year's backcourt. This year's quartet of Hodges, Shields, Grant and Davis has a combined two years of experience. That could make the season opener an interesting one.

In a matchup of two WNBA All-Decade Team members, Thompson had the upper hand in 2006. Thompson averaged 23.7 points and shot 56.4 percent from the field and 9-for-17 from downtown in the three head-to-head meetings. Jackson, who missed the third game to rest her shins, was limited to 11.5 points and 6.0 rebounds, shooting 7-for-20 from the field.

This off-season, Thompson and Jackson became teammates in Russia, playing with Bird for the Spartak club. Jackson doesn't believe that experience will help her at all in this game.

"I already knew that she could shoot the three," said Jackson. "She can shoot the ball better than anyone I know. I think that's pretty much the main thing. She just makes tough shots. No matter what I do, she'll probably get 30 and 20, sot it's like ... whatever. I'll do what I can."

The Storm closed the 2006 regular season in Houston on Aug. 14. While the Storm already had a playoff spot locked up, Houston did not, needing a win to clinch and earn the third seed. The motivated Comets came out on fire, hitting 58.8% in the first quarter. Houston then started the second quarter with a 13-0 run to go up 20 points. Seattle rallied after halftime, but the Comets went on another run in the fourth quarter to seal the 89-72 win. Thompson scored a game-high 31 points. Betty Lennox led the Storm with 16.

Storm - None.

Houston - None.