Insider Preview: Storm vs. Chicago

13-18 RECORD 13-18
1-4 LAST 5 3-2
70.7 PF 76.0
95.7 Off. Eff. 98.3
72.4 PA 76.1
98.0 Def. Eff. 98.7
31.2 RPG 35.2
.462 Reb % .541
73.6 Pace 75.3
13.8 Exp. Wins 15.4

Storm vs. Chicago
Tuesday, Sept. 18, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 1090 AM
LiveAccess: Available with subscription
Buy Tickets:
Promotion: Breast Health Awareness Night. Bid on autographed, game-worn jerseys in a silent auction on the concourse outside Aisle 104 and bring your new or gently used bras to be donated to Bras Across Lake Washington to the Star 101.5 booth on the West Plaza to get a 2-for-1 ticket voucher good for tonight's game.

Kevin Pelton,

It's not quite playoffs or bust for the Chicago Sky, but it's close. The Sky signaled its intent to reach the postseason for the first time in the franchise's seven-year history by loading up on veterans last winter to complement a younger core of All-Star center Sylvia Fowles and guards Epiphanny Prince and Courtney Vandersloot.

No move was bigger than a trade with the Seattle Storm. Chicago dealt the No. 2 overall pick to the Storm in exchange for experienced forwards Swin Cash and Le'coe Willingham, passing on the opportunity to add youth and adding salary in the process. The Sky still had enough room under the cap to sign guard Ticha Penicheiro and forward/center Ruth Riley, two more vets who have been part of WNBA championship teams, just like Cash and Willingham.

So, while the prospect of adding a lottery pick in a draft rich with star talent is an appealing consolation prize, Chicago badly would like to get a taste of the playoffs. With three games to go, that is an uphill battle. The Sky is a game back of the New York Liberty for the fourth and final spot in the Eastern Conference postseason. More problematically, the Liberty holds the tie-breaker between the two teams by virtue of a better record against East foes, meaning Chicago will have to win two more games than New York the rest of the way. The Liberty, which plays at San Antonio tonight, finishes the season with a home-and-home series against the lottery-bound (though still dangerous) Tulsa Shock.

If New York wins two of its last three games, there is nothing the Sky can do. If the Liberty goes 1-2, Chicago will have to be perfect over its final three games - tonight in Seattle, then home against Atlanta and Washington. So the Sky has little margin for error.

Over the course of the season, Chicago has clearly been the better of the two teams fighting for the fourth seed in the East. The Sky has been outscored by three points over 31 games, which would usually translate into a record right around .500. By contrast, New York has been outscored by 4.4 points per game.

Within the course of the campaign, Chicago's fortune in close games has turned. During a 7-1 start that briefly put the Sky atop the East, the team won twice in overtime, and another game decided by two points. Prince's series of baskets in the closing seconds was key to Chicago's success, and the team listed badly when Prince suffered a Jones fracture in her right foot on June 16 at Indiana. Without Prince, the Sky lost eight of nine games heading into the Olympic Break.

The month off gave Prince time to get healthy, but her return to the lineup could not change Chicago's struggles in close games. The Sky lost its first five games after the break, two of them in overtime and another by six points. All told, Chicago is 2-4 in overtime and 3-7 in games decided by five points or fewer, results that loom large in the tight playoff race.

The Sky has been able to hang in the playoff race by winning four of its last six games despite star Fowles playing regular minutes in just one of them. Fowles suffered a strained calf on Sept. 7 at New York and has missed the team's last four games, including a win over Minnesota and a 31-point blowout of the injury-plagued Phoenix Mercury in Chicago's last outing on Sunday.

Without Fowles, the Sky has changed styles, going from a bruising inside-out offense to a wider-open attack. Cash has moved to power forward next to Fowles' backup, 6-6 Carolyn Swords. That change has opened up the floor to emphasize Chicago's speed advantages. Cash has averaged 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds over the last five games, while Prince is averaging 20.8 points and Kent native Vandersloot has contributed 13.2 points and 5.0 assists during one of the better stretches of her WNBA career.

While Fowles sits, the Storm hopes to get Sue Bird and possibly Lauren Jackson back in the lineup tonight entering the final week of the regular season. The team would like to build on the momentum of a solid performance on Sunday against the East-leading Connecticut Sun, especially at the defensive end. The Sun scored a season-low point total in the win. If Bird returns, expect the Storm to take better care of the basketball after turning the ball over 20-plus times in all three games she missed with a strained left hip flexor.

Despite the broken foot, this has been a breakthrough season for Prince, who is in her third year out of Rutgers. In virtually the same minutes per game, Prince has improved her scoring average by nearly five points per game to 18.4, which places her fourth in the WNBA. The difference is almost entirely attributable to improved efficiency. Prince is shooting 42.3 percent from beyond the arc, good for seventh in the league, and has upped her two-point accuracy from 37.6 percent to 47.6 percent, which should make her a leading contender for Most Improved Player. Tanisha Wright did a good job of making Prince work for her points early this season in Chicago. While she still scored 17 points and knocked down four threes, Prince shot 6-of-16 from the field. She did hand out seven assists.

Through three quarters, the Storm put itself in position to pull the upset June 13 in Chicago, but the team's offense disappeared in the final period as the Sky pulled away for the 74-58 win. Chicago won its sixth consecutive game and moved atop the Eastern Conference at 7-1 while the Storm dropped to 1-7, extending the worst start in franchise history. For much of the game, the Storm hung close, and an 8-0 run to end the third quarter brought the team within just four with momentum. However, the Storm scored just one field goal in the first 7:24 of the final period as the Sky put the game away.

The Storm's offense ran best with Bird at the controls. Bird broke out of a slump with nine points and 10 assists. Ann Wauters was on the receiving end of several of those dishes, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds. Tina Thompson added 13 points. Chicago got a combined 33 points from stars Fowles, who added 15 rebounds, and Prince, who had seven assists and six rebounds. The Sky also got double-digit scoring from Tamera Young (12) and Riley (10) while dominating the glass. Chicago had 18 offensive rebounds to the Storm's three.


Storm - Guard Sue Bird (strained right hip flexor) is probable. Center Lauren Jackson (strained hamstring) is questionable.

Chicago - Center Sylvia Fowles (strained calf) is out.

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