Storm Building Momentum
Returning home after a key road victory over the Detroit Shock last Tuesday, the Seattle Storm maintained its momentum on Saturday night against the WNBA-leading Indiana Fever. The Storm took control of the game with a 21-3 run to end the first half, then maintained the advantage for the team's most lopsided win in more than a month by a 74-60 final. Taken together, the two performances seem to signal a turning point for the Storm.
"I feel like early on in the season at the beginning we were playing really good basketball, and then we didn't match other teams' intensity and started losing some games, lost some home games," said Storm center Janell Burse. "I feel like now we're starting to peak and it's the perfect time to peak, going into the playoffs. I think we're right on track - we've just got to keep going up from this point; we can't go back down."
"I feel like after the initial two losses on our road trip, we really pulled together in Detroit," said Burse. "Our last home game, it carried over. That focus and intensity we brought against Detroit, we brought it to our home court, and we were able to win on that alone.
"I think we hit a little bit of a late season lull as a group, but we talked about wanting to get back on the right track," noted guard Sue Bird after Saturday's game. "We wanted to come in with an extra amount of focus and motivation. We've seen the results and it just makes you want to do it more."
The Storm will have that opportunity during a busy week at KeyArena. Over the next five nights, the Storm will take on three Eastern Conference opponents - Washington, Connecticut and Atlanta - to all but wrap up the regular-season schedule at KeyArena. After concluding the homestand next Saturday, the Storm will finish with four of the season's last five games on the road.
With the playoffs in sight - and a chance to secure a sixth straight trip to the postseason by winning two more games - the Storm continues to aim for improvement as a team.
"I think we still haven't peaked," said Bird. "I still believe we can play better. We're on the right track, which is a good thing. With that being said, all the teams in the league are very good. Any given night, I don't care what their record is, any team can win. I think this is one of the toughest years since I've been in this league."
One impressive aspect of Saturday's performance is that it came on a tough night for MVP candidate Lauren Jackson, who was feeling the effects of a back she injured a week earlier in Atlanta. Jackson played 24 minutes, tying her season low, and scored 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting. Jackson did contribute eight rebounds. She participated in the Storm's practice Monday and has undergone rehab, but predicting how her back will feel tomorrow is virtually impossible.
"We anticipate her playing tomorrow," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "Now, how long and what happens once we get out on the floor, you never know something like that."
Burse's play was a big reason the Storm was able to overcome Jackson's off night. Coming off the bench, Burse tied her season high with 14 rebounds and grabbed seven rebounds, energizing the Storm with her play at both ends of the floor.
"Lauren was sore, so I was able to come in and be productive," said Burse, whose 24 minutes were the most she has played as a reserve this season. "The longer you play and you're out there, the more of a rhythm you can get into and the better you feel. You can just kind of play."
Showing her versatility, Burse took a rare opportunity to play point guard when she got a steal near the opposing free throw line and led a fast break. She fed Jackson, who dished back to Burse to finish the break with a layup. Teammate Tanisha Wright was jokingly upset with Burse's decision-making as a point guard.
"Tanisha's still mad at me about that," Burse said. "She claims she was calling for the ball and I didn't pass it to her, but I really thought she was behind me. I just saw the open court."