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With Jackson Battling Back, Burse Steps Up

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Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | August 26, 2009
That Seattle Storm center Lauren Jackson is bothered by her back was evident to observers during last night's 78-68 Storm win over the Washington Mystics. The All-Star bent over to grab her back after committing a foul during the third quarter and spent every timeout and her time on the bench with a hot pad on her back to keep it warm. Yet the superhuman Jackson still managed 13 points and four blocked shots in 18 minutes.

"We're just trying to get her ready to play games," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "She's going through the prep work like everybody else is. She had an appointment here this afternoon. That's sort of where we're at. How much she plays, if she plays will be determined tomorrow right around gametime."


"Part of us playing better as a team is what Janell's been able to provide us."
Aaron Last/Storm Photos
Because of her appointment, Jackson was not available to the media after Wednesday's brief practice session. However, Agler's comments about her status for the Storm's matchup on Thursday with the Connecticut Sun (7:00 p.m., 1150-AM KKNW, LiveAccess, ) were not quite as positive as they were leading up to the Washington game.

"It was a struggle for her last night," Agler explained. "I don't think I would be honest in saying that I'm for sure what's going to happen tomorrow. As we go through our prep work, we plan to have her, but we also know things can happen. It's part of the season and part of the situation right now."

Since the Storm ran up a 14-point lead after one quarter and was up 23 at halftime, Agler was able to limit Jackson's minutes in the win over the Mystics. Even if Jackson is unable to play extended minutes on Thursday, Agler can take comfort in the production the Storm has gotten off the bench from center Janell Burse. Her two longest stints as a reserve this season have come the last two games, and Burse has responded with consecutive 14-point outings as well as a combined 13 rebounds.

In Burse, the Storm has the luxury of a backup center who spent three seasons as a full-time starter as the Storm prior to sitting out the 2008 season. And while playing in a reserve role for the first time since 2004, when she backed up Kamila Vodichkova for the Storm's championship team, has been an adjustment, Burse seems to be locked in lately.

"Part of us playing better as a team is what she's been able to provide us," Agler said after Tuesday's win. "She's on-task defensively, she's rebounding the ball. We'd like to get a few more offensive boards from her, but she's doing some good things. Defensively, she's very active. She had some nice post moves tonight, made some good passes."

While it is Burse's scoring that has drawn the most attention, Agler has highlighted her work at the defensive end of the floor.

"What I like best about Janell," he said, "is not her ability to put the ball in the basket but the energy level and the intensity and the focus she's starting to bring defensively. And the rebounding."

Returning to the WNBA after missing an entire season was difficult for Burse, but Agler has been pleased with the way she has made the adjustment.

"I think the league has changed a lot since she last played in it," he said. "Everybody that's been in the league two years ago compared to now can see how it's gotten better - more athletic, bigger, stronger, quicker. Not just in the post, but on the perimeter too. I think it was a little bit surprising for her to come back in after being out a year. She's been one who has stuck with it and been consistent, especially lately, on the floor."

In addition to Burse, Jackson's limited minutes have allowed Agler to get other backup posts into his rotation. Centers Suzy Batkovic-Brown and Ashley Robinson have both seen action.

"When Suzy goes in the game, you know something's going to happen," said Agler. "Most of the time, that's good, so I like that. I thought Ashley Robinson's given us some good minutes two of the last three games."

It was Jackson, even after injuring her back, who carried the Storm to a win in Detroit last Tuesday by scoring a season-high 36 points. Since then, the team's other post players have helped pick up for Jackson to lead the Storm to a three-game winning streak that ties the team's longest of the season. If the team is to extend that streak to four straight wins by beating the Sun, the Storm will need continued production from Burse and the other reserve posts.