Storm Getting Healthier, But Jackson Out

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Kevin Pelton, | September 14, 2009
Plagued by injuries and absences in the final week of the regular season, the Seattle Storm got mostly good news on that front Monday as the team practiced in Los Angeles in preparation for Game 1 of its Western Conference Semifinals series with the L.A. Sparks. Nine players participated in practice, including guards Sue Bird (who missed the last three games of the regular season with a sore neck) and Tanisha Wright (who missed Saturday's season finale with soreness in her left Achilles) and forward Swin Cash (out last week for personal reasons).

With forward Katie Gearlds making progress in her own return from a torn PCL, the Storm could have 10 active, healthy players on Wednesday for the first time in weeks. However, All-Star Lauren Jackson will not be amongst them. Jackson did not participate in practice and will not play in the Storm's series against Los Angeles.

"I'd imagine she'll be in uniform on Wednesday night. How much she can give us, I don't know."
Aaron Last/Storm Photos
"We've had success without Lauren, but we're not a better team without her," Storm Head Coach Brian Agler said by telephone after practice. "She's as impactful at the defensive end as she is at the offensive end. Obviously, she's a big part of our team but we've got quite a bit of experience without her too."

The Storm's success without Jackson has depended largely upon Bird stepping into the role of go-to scorer, so her absence down the stretch after injuring her neck on the Storm's East Coast road trip early this month was especially painful. Bird went through all of Monday's practice and is feeling ready to go.

"I think I could have played on Saturday)," Bird said, "but I definitely feel better today than I have all week. We ran up and down a little bit, we went through some drills, and it felt good to be out there. Game experience might have been nice, but I think I'll be OK. I'm not too worried about it."

Because the Storm was locked into the second seed regardless of the outcome of the regular season's final two games, Agler was able to give Bird a few extra days as well as offer Wright a well-deserved rest. Cash, meanwhile, is healthy but missed both games to return home after her grandmother passed away.

With those key players sidelined, the Storm's bench was called upon to play a key role and responded well. Veteran guard Shannon Johnson averaged more than 40 minutes per game in Bird's absence (playing 41 minutes in an overtime loss to Phoenix last Thursday) and twice recorded new season highs for scoring. Rookie Ashley Walker set and broke her career high for scoring in consecutive games, and centers Suzy Batkovic-Brown and Ashley Robinson got more regular time than they have enjoyed all season, setting them up to help the Storm off the bench in the postseason.

On Saturday in San Antonio, the reserves led the Storm to a 64-55 win, the team's 20th of the season. The milestone win meant the Storm was the WNBA's only team to win 20 games or more each of the last two seasons. It was also the fourth time in franchise history the Storm reached 20 wins.

"I'm glad we got there," said Agler. "I didn't know whether we would or not with all the injuries and mishaps and the issues that we've dealt with or our players have dealt with. A lot of those are out of our control. That's been tough on us, no question, but the one thing we've been able to do is we've maintained our competitiveness. We've had an opportunity to put ourselves in position to play when we've not been at full strength against some quality teams. Then at the same time, we've had the opportunity to beat some people too. I'm just real proud of our effort lately."

With Jackson ruled out, the one lingering question mark is the availability of Gearlds. She could participate in some 5-on-5 action in practice tomorrow as she nears her return to the court. However, Gearlds is six weeks removed from game action and may need some time to knock off any rust and get into game shape before contributing.

"She's progressing," Agler said. "She'll probably try to do a little bit more tomorrow. I'd imagine she'll be in uniform on Wednesday night. How much she can give us, I don't know."