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Inside the W with Michelle Smith: Storm Look to Right Ship

The news that the Seattle Storm made a coaching change Thursday can’t be that big of a surprise.

A team that features perhaps the best point guard in the history of the league, Sue Bird, and a pair of No. 1 draft picks in Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, is conspicuous with a 10-16 record and a four-game losing streak, looking up at playoff position.

A change was in order, and at this point in the season, that change usually starts and ends with the head coach.

Gary Kloppenburg takes over for Jenny Boucek looking to rally the Storm over their final eight games – five of which are on the road, where Seattle is 2-10 this season.

Bird’s experience aside, Seattle has to be regarded – thanks largely to the impact roles of Stewart and Loyd – as a young team. And considering that they were a playoff team last season that many expected to be in the thick of the postseason picture this year, they also have to be regarded as a disappointment.

Young teams are in vogue in the WNBA this year, with the success of Connecticut and the sudden momentum of Dallas, making Seattle’s struggles all the more apparent.

The Storm were up and down much of the season until the last couple of weeks – ironically, following a fabulous hosting effort for the WNBA All-Star Game – when the roller coaster was replaced by a slide. Tuesday’s loss to Connecticut – a game in which Seattle led by 11 points, but was outscored 33-9 in the final quarter – was the breaking point.

What can change now? Kloppenburg needs to find a way to inspire the Storm on the defensive end of the floor, where they rank 10th in the league in efficiency.

He has to jump-start an offense that has plenty of scorers, but seems to struggle to do just that during critical stretches.

There is an opportunity here for Seattle to salvage an underachieving season with a playoff berth. But time was getting short. Will one big change lead to another in the Emerald City? Time will tell.

Life without Lindsay

Cheryl Reeve doesn’t sugar coat. The Minnesota Lynx coach knows there are silver linings in the injury to starting point guard Lindsay Whalen, the winningest player in WNBA history who will miss the rest of the regular season with a surgically repaired broken hand. She will come back in time for what the Lynx hope is another successful title chase.

Other players, like backup point guard Renee Montgomery, rookie Alexis Jones and Jia Perkins will have a chance to gain valuable experience heading into the playoffs.

Reeve and her veterans – players like Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and MVP favorite Sylvia Fowles – will adjust and learn to play a different way without the floor leader and distributor.

The Lynx will play their third game without Whalen Friday night, and it will be a big one: a matchup against defending champion Los Angeles in St. Paul.

“As we saw in the last two games, people don’t realize the value Lindsay Whalen brought in terms of her intangibles,” Reeve said. “Her experience, the games she’s played, her physical and mental toughness, they are contagious for our team.”

Reeve lauded the play of Montgomery in the starting role.

“Renee is a good player. She is just very different,” Reeve said. “Different isn’t bad. It’s just different. She has to give a little and we have to give a little, and we will figure out how to meet in the middle.”

The coach admitted her play-calling may need to change in these Whalen-less days.

“I need to do a better job of understanding Renee’s strengths,” Reeve said. “In that first game, we were a little out of sorts. But I don’t want us to get that far out of sorts. The good thing is, Renee has filled in before and she’s ready.”

The Lynx are trying to finish with the first 30-win season in league history with just three losses on the docket thus far. Reeve said her team will “hold down the fort” until Whalen returns during the playoff run.

“I think it will make us stronger,” Reeve said. “We have good people to fill in for her, and we can play without a true point guard when we have to. When she comes back, we will have gained valuable experience that can only make us stronger.”

Dallas gaining steam

Despite a tough home loss to Phoenix Thursday night, 101-100 in overtime, the Dallas Wings are a team with momentum heading into the stretch run. They’re playing good basketball and challenging some of the league’s best teams. The Wings have won two of their last three, including Sunday’s win over Los Angeles, their second victory over the defending champions this season.

Forward Glory Johnson said the Wings are not “focused” on the playoffs.

“The goal is to make sure we understand the importance of every game,” said the Wings’ second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, who had 25 points and 15 rebounds in the overtime loss to Phoenix. “We don’t want to focus on going to the playoffs. We want to focus on the game and task at hand.”

Dallas has six games left on its schedule, including two against Connecticut, the top team in the Eastern Conference. The Wings also face Atlanta, Chicago, Washington and New York, all teams clustered between the 4th and 9th-place spots in the standings. There is no easy path here for a team without much experience making a playoff push.

Johnson confessed that the opportunity to make her first postseason appearance, and the franchise’s first since it moved to Dallas, is “in the back of my mind.”

“It’s definitely something we’ve talked about,” Johnson said. “But in order not to get too far ahead of ourselves, we can’t dwell on it. So our goal is to focus on the task at hand. It’s not that we don’t think about it, it’s just not what we are going to focus on.”

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith will have a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the 2017 season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

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