The Houston Comets and Sacramento Monarchs were two of the WNBA's hottest teams before the league took its Olympic hiatus. A month off appears to have stalled their momentum.
After each club lost in its return from the break, the Monarchs and Comets look to get back on track when they meet at Arco Arena on Saturday night.
Though Sacramento (15-13) dropped its final game before the Olympics, it had won its previous seven contests - tying a franchise record - to overcome an 8-11 start and pull back into the Western Conference playoff race.
Houston (14-13) put together its own run, winning its last five games before play stopped in late July. That streak pulled the Comets, who lost their first five games of the season, within a half-game of the Monarchs for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West.
Neither team, however, helped their postseason chances in their first games after the break. Sacramento failed to make a basket in the final 6:53 of the first half, and was outscored 46-23 in the second and third quarters of a 78-63 loss to Los Angeles on Thursday night.
"We're so interdependent," Monarchs coach Jenny Boucek said. "We've had many players not practicing. If one player is just a little bit out of rhythm, it really throws our systems off."
Rebekkah Brunson's absence didn't help Boucek's club. Brunson, the Monarchs' leading rebounder, underwent knee surgery Aug. 6 and is expected to be sidelined through the end of the regular season. She could return for part of the playoffs if the Monarchs are still alive.
The Comets' return from the hiatus didn't go any better. Tina Thompson helped lead the U.S. national team to the gold medal in Beijing, but she went 2-for-10 from the field as Houston fell 66-49 to Seattle for its fourth straight road defeat.
"I'm tired, but I'm always tired," said Thompson, who had reached double figures in scoring in 21 of her previous 22 games. "That hasn't stopped me before, so I'm not exactly sure. We can't continue to play like this and expect to have a chance to be in the playoffs."
The Comets and Monarchs have split their first two meetings this season. Sacramento won 73-66 at home May 30 before losing 73-65 in Houston on July 5. Monarchs forward Nicole Powell averaged 17.0 points in those games, while Thompson led the Comets in scoring in both contests, averaging 16.5 points.
Powell is confident Sacramento can rebound Saturday from its disappointing return.
"Obviously we did not do too well, but we have to move on and look past this and look forward to the Houston Comets," she said. "We have six more games to focus on, and our real concern is making the playoffs."
The teams close their season series at Houston on Sept. 12.