Insider Preview - Storm vs. Chicago
Saturday, May 17, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 1150 AM KKNW
Promotion: Opening Night - the first 10,000 fans will receive a 2008 limited-edition commemorative program
Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com
The Seattle Storm's 2008 Opening Night against the Chicago Sky will be more than just a basketball game. In a real sense, Saturday will be a celebration of everything that has taken place since the Storm left the KeyArena floor last August having lost Game 1 of its first-round series with Phoenix - most notably, the sale of the team to Force 10 Hoops L.L.C., ensuring its future in Seattle. The Storm played a preseason game at the Key a week ago, but without stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson and without anything on the line, it wasn't quite the same. Saturday will also bring a sellout crowd to KeyArena, with the upper bowl open on Opening Night for the first time since 2005, when the Storm was celebrating winning the WNBA championship.
"I anticipate there being a lot of energy, said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler on Friday, "because I think we'll have a good crowd."
At some point, the focus will shift to basketball and a matchup with one of the Eastern Conference's most promising young teams. The Chicago Sky has drafted well in the franchise's short existence, making two-time All-Star Candice Dupree the first draft pick in team history and following her up by picking Rookie of the Year Armintie Price a year ago.
Chicago held the second overall pick in this year's WNBA Draft and added LSU center Sylvia Fowles, who is already one of the league's most imposing physical presences despite the fact that she has yet to play a regular-season game. The 6-6 Fowles led the Tigers to four straight Final Fours and became the sixth woman to dunk in a college game during her senior season. Fowles put up big numbers in the preseason, averaging 10.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in just 15.7 minutes per game.
Besides strong draft picks, the other constant in Chicago so far has been turnover on the sidelines. Dave Cowens resigned after one season with the Sky to return to the NBA as an assistant. Virtual unknown Bo Overton was recruited from Missouri-Kansas City to replace Cowens and led Chicago to an nine-game improvement in 2007, but resigned abruptly in March. Assistant coach Steven Key, who served under both Cowens and Overton, was named the third head coach in Sky franchise history.
During the preseason, the Sky's system has looked largely the same under Key as it had under Overton, but the rookie head coach might have some surprises in store for the regular season. Key has yet to work with a full complement of players; neither Dupree nor starting point guard Dominique Canty were with Chicago during the preseason as they completed their seasons overseas.
One surprise could be the Sky's starting lineup. While Canty, Price, Dupree and Fowles are sure to start, Key could go in a number of different directions with the fifth spot in the starting lineup. Veteran Chasity Melvin started 25 games at center for the Sky in 2007 after being acquired in an early-season trade and could slide to power forward alongside Fowles, pushing Dupree to small forward. Sixth woman Jia Perkins is the most likely choice to start in a three-guard lineup. Chicago could also go with veteran forward Brooke Wyckoff.
Whether or not she starts, Key should find more minutes for Perkins, last year's Sixth Woman Award runner-up. Perkins was one of the league's most effective players on a per-minute basis, effectively combining the ability to get in the paint off the dribble and shoot from range (43.3% from downtown). She was Chicago's second-leading scorer but was sixth on the team with 23.1 minutes per game.
After drafting Fowles, the Sky went back to LSU with its second-round pick to take her college teammate Quianna Chaney. Chaney carved out a role for herself with her strong shooting in the preseason. Chaney shot 6-for-10 from three-point range in three exhibition games and attempted only one two-point shot.
The Storm and Sky got an early look at each other with a preseason matchup at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on April 30. While both sides were extremely short-handed in that game, it still will offer some insight in a matchup between two head coaches new to their teams.
For the Storm, Saturday night will be the first time the complete roster with Bird and Jackson plays under Agler. That means there's a little uncertainty, but Agler is confident his team is ready.
"If we come out and focus defensively and if we come out and play with poise, I can guarantee we'll play with energy," said Agler. "I'd be shocked if we come out and don't play with a lot of energy. I think we'll play well"
|In Dupree and Jackson, both teams feature versatile power forwards who can score in the paint or step out on the perimeter and knock down a jumper. Last year, Dupree played well against the Storm, scoring 18 points in both matchups and shooting 51.7% from the field. Still, it was Jackson who had the upper hand. She was outstanding in the Storm's June win at KeyArena, leading all scorers with 33 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. Chicago may look to use Fowles' size to frustrate Jackson at times, which could send the MVP out to the three-point line to take Fowles away from her comfort zone.|
Chicago - Center Kayte Christensen (lower back injury) is out.