Insider Preview - Storm vs. Minnesota
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com
Tuesday, Aug. 17, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 1150 AM KKNW
LiveAccess: Live Video
After approaching last week's East Coast road trip with mixed goals - wanting to win, but also aggressively limiting the minutes played by starters - the Seattle Storm has returned home with increased clarity. Three games away from the start of the playoffs, the Storm has refocused on winning as the primary objective now that key players have gotten a chance to get some rest.
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com
"We have to keep people rested, healthy and sharp," Storm Head Coach Brian Agler said after Sunday's loss at Washington, during which starters played heavy minutes but not quite as much as usual. "You have to have a feel for what your team needs and now we’re closing in on the stretch run so we have to get these people back ramped up going in the playoffs."
Agler had always maintained that his plan to get more playing time for younger Storm players and rest the starters was primarily for the three-game road trip, and that he'd approach home games differently.
"I think there's a pride here of playing at home," Agler said before the road trip. In particular, the Storm has not lost a game at KeyArena this season and has a chance to become the first team in WNBA history to go 17-0 at home. In 2001, the Los Angeles Sparks went undefeated at home, but the schedule called for just 16 home games at that point.
Besides the competing goals, the other factor the Storm ran into during back-to-back losses at Connecticut and Washington was the motivation on the other side. The Sun was desperate to stay alive in the playoff picture, while the Mystics were equally in need of a win to stave Connecticut off. The Storm will face that same sense of urgency tonight against a Minnesota Lynx team that is part of a three-sided competition for the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
The Lynx remain in control of their own destiny after an up-and-down week that featured two showdowns between the three teams battling for two spots. On Thursday, Minnesota was surprised a home by the Los Angeles Sparks in a wild finish. The Sparks rallied from a 17-point second-quarter deficit to win 78-77 on Tina Thompson's jumper at the buzzer. The Lynx lost in heartbreaking fashion again the next night, seeing an 11-point first-half lead evaporate. The game ended with Lindsay Whalen missing a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
Minnesota bounced back at the Target Center on Sunday, knocking off San Antonio by an 84-78 final to create a three-team deadlock, with all the contenders at 12-19 entering the final week of the season. The victory also secured the head-to-head tie-breaker with the Silver Stars. If the season ended today, the Lynx would be out of the playoffs because they lose a three-team tie. However, Minnesota gets another crack at the Sparks on Friday at the Staples Center, so winning out will assure the Lynx a playoff berth.
Making the postseason has added importance in Minnesota because the team has been mired in a five-year playoff drought since losing to the Storm in the opening round in 2004. The experience would be valuable for a young Lynx team that has not taken part in a lot of big games.
Minnesota will try to do it without center Nicky Anosike, who did not travel for the team's season-ending three-game road trip. Without Anosike, the Lynx will likely play smaller, with All-Star Rebekkah Brunson shifting over to center and Charde Houston stepping into the starting lineup. That frontcourt is less effective defensively, but the Storm knows first-hand how potent it can be on offense. Houston had 14 points in a starting role in a win over Seattle on Aug. 1, when Anosike came off the bench due to illness.
Throughout the season, Minnesota has had success against the Storm. The teams split two matchups at the Target Center, while the Storm won early in the year at KeyArena against a Lynx team that was playing without star forward Seimone Augustus. The common theme between the three games? Last-second finishes. All three came down to the final possession. Close games are nothing new for Minnesota. All eight Lynx games in August have been decided by fewer than 10 points, and the Lynx have gone 2-7 this season in games decided by three points or fewer.
|After a slow start to her rookie campaign, Monica Wright has come on down the stretch. The key has been making shots. Wright's shooting percentage was far too low early in the season. During August, she's improved her field-goal percentage to 46.7 percent, including 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. The No. 2 overall pick, Wright showed off her wares when the Lynx last visited KeyArena, scoring 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting and making a variety of difficult attempts. Minnesota last beat the Storm without a big effort from Wright, whose four points were her lowest output this month. Credit Storm counterpart Tanisha Wright with strong defense to go along with her 15 points.|
The Storm's comeback luck ran out Aug. 1 in Minnesota. Trailing throughout nearly the entire final three quarters, the Storm lost 72-71 to the Lynx when Sue Bird's game-winning attempt was off just before the final buzzer. Having already come from behind in the fourth quarter to beat Minnesota twice this season, the Storm got in position to make it three, tying the game with 18 seconds left on a Bird runner. Augustus, shooting with plenty of time left on the clock, misfired from the left wing, but Anosike secured the rebound and was fouled going up. She split two free throws, living the Storm down one with 5.5 seconds to play. The inbounds pass went to Bird, who drove left and took a difficult pull-up jumper from 16 feet that bounced out, snapping the Storm's winning streak at 13 games. The loss was the Storm's first of the season in 17 games against Western Conference foes.
Lauren Jackson left the game during the second quarter after injuring her left thumb and did not start the second half, but after returning from the locker room she gamely battled the pain to give the Storm needed production. She finished with 12 points. Bird led the Storm with 16 points and handed out 10 assists, while Wright scored 15 points and Camille Little scored nine of her 13 in the final period. Augustus was tough for the Storm to stop, scoring 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting.
Storm - None.
Minnesota - Guard Candice Wiggins (ruptured left Achilles) and center Nicky Anosike (left knee soreness) are out.