Storm play-by-play broadcaster David Locke shares his thoughts on the Storm from an insider's perspective. Check back regularly for the latest from Locke and share your thoughts with him at AskLocke@sonics-storm.com.
Sue Bird is going to play. That is the best news of the day. Sue and I chatted as a part of today’s StormCast, co-hosted by Karen Bryant. Sue is in good spirits and looking at her you would have no idea that anything happened to the nose. Sue insists that she can tell it is a little different than usual. Seattle will play their 34th game in the last three seasons with Sue wearing the mask. They have won 19 of them.
The next best news was the confidence that LJ had when I chatted with her today. Tuesday is a chance for LJ to grab the baton as the best player in the women’s game.
I believe that if Seattle wins on Tuesday it will be the passage of Leslie as the best in the game to LJ at the top of the pinnacle. We may have a time where they go back and forth for a while, but eventually it is going to be LJ’s game and Tuesday is step one.
LJ had a buzz to her today. She understands what is at stake and is ready.
The Storm as a crew seems undaunted by the task that is at hand. The confidence the team developed this season on the road is obvious.
Anne Donovan, who is also featured in StormCast, says that the Storm worked most of practice on refining zone offense, making some subtle changes. Without giving away too much of what they are doing, what jumped out at me at practice is that the most minor of steps to a players right or left can change the entire complex of opponents' positioning.
For fans, understanding how to attack a zone is a complicated concept, so that is what I focused on with Anne in our Coaches Corner.
The other focus in practice was making sure that LJ gets more than four shot attempts. Yet, somewhat symbolic of the year-long challenge for the team and coaches, this was being done in a practice when LJ was not participating.
A few team notes from being on the road: The team is going to a group dinner tonight at a local restaurant in Marina Del Ray ... After practice today Izi was wearing the really cool Iziane t-shirt that is sold at the team shop ... Former Storm players Adia Barnes and Kate Paye were at the game yesterday.
Just got off the phone with David Locke from Los Angeles with great news. Sue Bird's nose is apparently not broken.
Bird saw a specialist in Manhattan Beach last night and found out that she has a contusion, not a break. Whether Bird is able to play in Tuesday's Game 3 (7:00 p.m., ESPN2, KJR 950 AM) will depend on whether she feels physically up to it.
As was reported last night, the Storm travels with one of Bird's masks. Another is in Seattle and will be transported to Los Angeles in time for Game 2. It's expected that if Bird plays, she will wear one of the masks.
- Kevin Pelton
Update: Matt Wurst is reporting in the WNBA.com Official Blog that Bird will play on Tuesday.
Locke will be at the Storm's practice later today and will provide an update from there.
I have a pit in my stomach. I just walked back in my hotel room with my suitcase trailing behind me. When I left the hotel today with optimism, I took my suitcase and left my hotel key behind. I was convinced today was going our way.
Now I walk back into the hotel room stuck in L.A. until game 3 on Tuesday, wondering what happened to the 15 point lead Seattle had in the second quarter and hoping that Sue Bird’s nose is ok.
After the game, Bird went for X-Rays on her nose to see if it was broken. Watching her on-court reaction, it was clear that Sue is very concerned that her nose has been broken for a third time.
Even after an incomprehensible stretch when Seattle didn’t hit a field goal for over 14 minutes of basketball, it felt like Seattle was going to end the series in LA today.
In many ways this game was about home-court advantage. In Seattle, the home crowd was able to propel the Storm out of the third quarter doldrums into a dynamic, crowd-pleasing fourth-quarter blitz.
Today the Storm could never make the play to get them out of their quagmire. They never were able to link play to play. At home when the team makes one of those game altering plays the crowd goes nuts; today the crowd waited for the next Sparks play to make their impact.
There are three or four things that are easy to focus on that caused the loss on the floor. First, Seattle never found an answer for the Sparks zone defense. Seattle had just two field goals from the end of the first quarter until the two-minute mark of the third quarter. They had none for 14 minutes of that stretch.
Lauren Jackson was unable to get rolling inside the zone. She had just four shot attempts in the game. Give L.A. credit - in Game 1 Seattle’s post players dominated the inside and put up big numbers. Today, LJ rarely was open for good looks. The Storm guards must make a larger effort in getting the ball inside to their MVP.
Sometimes hitting a bunch of 3s early in game can be fool's gold and this was one of those days. The Storm hit five 3s in the first quarter. Then they lost aggressiveness and hoped that the 3 would start falling again. It never did.
Betty Basketball threw up nine 3s today. If I am L.A., I would much rather have Betty as a spot-up 3-point shooter than a dynamic driving force that gets to the foul line and creates for other players. Betty had just one assist today after having seven in the series opener.
Defensively, the middle of the paint became more and more open as the game went on. Joe Bryant moved Lisa Leslie out of the paint and had her playing at around 15 feet and it seemed to open up lanes for the rest of the Sparks bigs, who got numerous easy looks inside the paint.
Bottom line is Seattle showed once again that they match very well against the Sparks. Tuesday will be as good as the WNBA gets, with the two best players in the world going head-to-head with their seasons on the line and two very good teams trying to find that little edge that makes a difference.
All week long, Anne Donovan preached that her team must learn to play without Lauren Jackson. Jackson is limited to just 30 minutes a night because of her shin injury. Over simplifying, this season with LJ on the floor Seattle was the W’s best and with her on the bench ... you know how the story ends.
Tonight with the score tied at 61, Lauren took a seat and the Storm ran off a 7-0 run to take control of the game. It was one of the items LJ and I talked about after the game as KeyArena chanted "MVP!"
Tiffani Johnson's layup finished the run after Betty and JB had combined for the first part of the run.
In the first half, when LJ went to the bench the defense went with her. The Sparks scored on every possession with LJ on the bench. However, in the fourth the defense got active and forced the Sparks into 3-of-16 shooting in the quarter.
Playoffs is about the stars, but the X-factor is what often pushes a team over the top. Tonight, Tiffani’s play off the bench and Izi’s dagger 3 in the fourth were the X-Factor plays. Hear those key plays and others in this highlight package recap of the game from tonight's radio broadcast.
One signature of the second half of the season has been the Storm ability to close games and play under pressure. Again tonight they showed that growth. Trailing by two going into the fourth quarter, the Storm opened on a 13-2 run. That took control of the game and with a ravenous KeyArena leading the way the Storm never relented to the #1 seed in the West.
One more to BEAT L.A.!
Also, Aloha means victory.
It is Gameday. This is a fan’s dream - big game, hated rival and The Diva.
I thought I would share some of the nuggets I discovered while prepping for Game 1 of the playoffs.
Numerous Storm players notched career highs this season. Lauren Jackson had a career high in field-goal % and free-throw %. Sue Bird had a career high steals. Betty Lennox and JB notched career highs in field-goal %. Izi not only set a career high from the field and from 3-point range, she blew them out of the water.
Some interesting things showed up when looking at our players performances against the Sparks. LJ was unreal. She averaged 25 points per game and hit 18-of-25 from the field in two games against L.A. Sue, on the other hand, struggled against L.A., making just 33% of her shots, though she did average seven assists a game and set her career high steals in a game on opening night.
Keep an eye on Bird. She very quietly closed the season on fire, hitting 48% of her shots from 3 in the month of August.
Betty Basketball is an L.A.-killer shooting 48% and averaging 17 points and five rebounds per game.
Did everyone realize that JB was #6 in the WNBA in FG%, #9 in rebounds and #11 in blocks? That is a great year for JB, who battled a ton of injuries throughout the year.
From the Sparks end of things, I had forgotten that Lisa had such a poor playoffs last season against Sacramento - averaging just nine points a game and shooting 36%. However, this year Lisa has been unreal. In her 10th season, she has set a career high in points per game, field-goal %, 3-point % and assists.
The Sparks are an amazing 21-4 when Holdsclaw plays. Coming off the bench she was #11 in points and #14 in rebounds. Yet she has played just once since August 1st and has not beat up Seattle this year, averaging just 10 points and shooting 35%.
5-3 Temeka Johnson has grabbed seven rebounds per game against Seattle and dished out nine assists per game, but has shot just 25%. Johnson is not a 3-point threat, hitting just 3-of-26 from the behind the arch this season. Seattle’s point guards have to be smart with her and force her to shoot rather than penetrate.
Take a moment and chew on those little tidbits. Now get the screaming voice ready, put on your Hawaiian shirt and rock the Key tonight.
How much power do fans really have on the outcome of a game? If you ask me, I think Hawaiian shirts are the key for Storm Playoff success.
It has happened to all of us. You are watching a Storm game and they are ahead by 10 and all of a sudden you switch your seat on the couch and the lead disappears. Then when your friend wanders in the room, the team gets hot and goes up 12. Are these things coincidences or did they just impact the game in some bizarre fashion?
In our heart of hearts we know that our actions don’t impact the outcome of the game, but at the same time what happens if we do have an impact?
You may think the domination of LJ is the key to Storm winning or the great coaching of Anne or the silky smooth shooting of Sue or maybe even the fire of Betty Lennox. Sorry, the real reason is my Hawaiian shirts.
In the 2004 season I wore a Hawaiian shirt to virtually every game. During every game of the playoffs it was a Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirt. Did it have an impact on the games?
I didn’t believe so, but then last year I thought it would be more professional to wear a shirt and tie to the playoffs. Look what happened.
This season we didn’t start well at home, so I thought it was time for a little Hawaiian shirt love. Sure enough the team won. After two nights of Hawaiian shirts, I got self-conscious and went back to the shirt and tie. Sure enough, they lost four in a row at home.
Back came the Hawaiian shirts and back came the winning. The Hawaiian shirts are here to stay.
Coincidence or are my ugly shirts having an impact on games? Let’s just say I am not willing to risk finding out. The Hawaiian shirts will be out for all the home games of the playoffs.
Kevin Pelton joined the Hawaiian magic last home game with one of the most flamboyant (that is a nice way of saying gross) Hawaiian shirts of all time. Thanks to Scott Engelhardt from StormFans.org for snapping a photo and allowing us to reprint it:
Feel free to join in on the Hula Hawaiian power and throw on your Hawaiian shirts for the playoff game on Friday. In Miami they had the White out for the NBA Finals. In Seattle we will kill them with brightness.
Storm and the Sparks. Lauren and Lisa. Seattle and Los Angeles. "Beat LA!" thundering out of the KeyArena. Can Friday please arrive?
When the Sparks were dominating, the Storm was developing. When the Storm was ready for the championship, the Monarchs tripped up the Sparks in the first round.
Now we finally get a big game. The top-seeded L.A. Sparks trying to regain their place atop the WNBA face the Storm with two All-Decade players, playoff experience and a championship banner won more recently than the Sparks.
This is going to be great. Not only will it be great, it is one of the few times in sports where the games best go head to head.
It is one of the reasons basketball is such a great game - players truly go head to head. In baseball the best players never go head-to-head and even if they do and it's a pitcher and a hitter they never turn it around.
In football, unless you have a cornerback against a wide receiver and they are the two best in the game the best players never look eye-to-eye.
This weekend the two best players in the WNBA will be sharing glares, swears and anything else you can imagine when Lauren and Lisa battle.
Traditionally, the Sparks have done everything they can to avoid forcing Lisa to guard Lauren on the defensive end. Over the course of a game, however, it becomes inevitable that the two bodies will bang.
When they do it is a sight to be seen. If the WNBA were the NBA, MLB or the NFL, this would be headlining the USA Today, ESPN and every other outlet all week.
Lisa told me this year that the media makes up the rivalry between her and Lauren. That is laughable. Anyone who has ever been in the arena for a Storm-Sparks game can tell in one minute that there is no love lost between these two superstars.
The Lauren v. Lisa matchup has everything. They are both insanely talented. They are both insanely competitive. They represent different generations of players - Lisa the veteran hanging on to her spot on the pinnacle with Lauren so obviously coming to knock her off. Impressively, Lisa has held her spot while LJ has hit her prime.
They represent different countries that are on a crash course for another gold medal match-up.
And most of all, despite all the denials, the two players don’t particularly like each other. It is everything a fan dreams of. You didn't want to know that Larry and Magic were buddies. Frazier and Ali can’t be palling around. Broncos and Raiders aren’t supposed to be sharing spirits.
Friday is the next step for the league’s best rivalries: Storm and the Sparks and LJ and Lisa.
LJ the broadcaster - how cool was that? Last night, LJ joined Elise and I for the entire second quarter of the game. She did a little play-by-play and a little analysis work, but most of all we just had a blast rapping with the World’s best.
From a play-by-play announcer’s standpoint, so much of this job is about watching the journey and the evolution of seasons, franchises and players. It is very similar to what a season-ticket holder feels.
Over the past seven years, watching Lozza become a dominant force on the floor and a commanding woman off the floor has been one of my highlights.
We got to see LJ when she was so raw. She arrived at 19 and was unsure of everything around her. Last night on the broadcast, she talked about having a chip on her shoulder when she came and being scared. It was a very honest comment and one of her most insightful self-evaluation comments I have heard. Her world was uncertain. What was this country? Could she play this game at this level? Was she being treated fairly? Those were the questions pounding inside of her teenage brain.
Today, Lauren is so controlled, almost methodical due to her confidence. She has an aura and a presence to her. She commands the space she stands in and all that around her. Quite frankly, she is what I call a show-stopper. When she walks in, the show stops because something more commanding just entered.
It is a wonderful evolution. The old phrase is a pictures is worth a thousand words. In this case just check out LJ’s headshot from 2001 and today.
At one level, LJ is the simplest of people. She wants and needs to be loved. When she sends out the kiss over the air to her mother, it is obvious. Yesterday, she told Elise a story about remembering every Sunday when she was a little kid, because those were the days when Mom came home from her basketball tournaments with presents.
This rawness, almost vulnerability, is what makes LJ so loveable. Here stands the greatest player in the world. A woman that commands attention and at the same time she is vulnerable enough that you can feel her love. There is no shield. There is no hiding behind a persona.
She can score 20 points and grab eight rebounds and tell Anne as she walks off the floor she is sorry because, “I sucked, mate.” That is where some of the vulnerability may derive from. She constantly demands perfection out of herself. It is a hard way to live and only the strongest can handle such standards. At the same time I would guess the self-imposed expectations create the need to be loved.
It is a love that anyone around her is more than willing to give.
It is why this teenager from down under has found a home in Seattle as she has become an authoritative, powerful woman.
I don’t do this very often because this blog is about the team and what it is doing. However, this morning I need to blow off some steam and this seems like the best avenue. I have just had my newest and worst hotel annoyance.
This morning was supposed to be my morning. My morning to close those hotel blackout blinds, delve deep into the Westin heavenly bed and wake when my body wanted to. This never happens. At home I get up with the kids every morning and on the road there is usually work to be done. Or, no offense San Antonio, we are a city where the last thing in the world I want to do is spend my day asleep.
So I am all set. This is the sleep-in day.
AND THE PEOPLE IN THE ROOM NEXT TO ME LEAVE THEIR ROOM EARLY IN THE MORNING AND LEAVE THEIR ALARM BLARING.
I called the room - no answer. I called the hotel and they sent security, but it was evidently taking the Pony Express from Laredo.
So now I am awake and very bitter.
The worst part is there is very little retribution I can think of.
A cute phone message to their room thanking them for the wake up seems rather feckless. I could go Chevy Chase in Fletch on them (getting their name and charging everything to their room), but since that is illegal it is probably a bad idea. I could arrange for a wake-up call each hour on the hour tonight, except I am in the room next door.
So here I sit awake, bitter and without any course of action. I wonder what it would have been like to just sleep and sleep and sleep.
I hope the refs are alright tonight or lacking sleep I could have a bad reaction
Storm fans all can remember the huge hug between LJ and Birdy as the confetti started falling from the rafters in KeyArena. Tonight, Bird ran into LJ's arms again, wrapping her legs high above her waist like a little kid when mommy or daddy comes home from a trip. The world’s best player had just driven the right lane against a very good defender, Ruth Riley, and hit an off-balance shot to give Seattle the two-point lead that was the difference in the playoff-clinching win.
We were all Bird-watching in the first half. Sue returned to the form she showed the first time the Storm earned a playoff birth with a win over Portland. She nailed six 3s in the first half, setting a WNBA record. The Storm were throwing the ball into a hula hoop.
However, 20 minutes later they were on the verge of being on the wrong side of the biggest comeback in WNBA history. That was until our two superstars embraced the game the way they did each other after LJ’s game winner.
Down one, Bird rolled off the same pick-and-roll that had riddled the Shock all first half and got free at the free-throw line. Like a grizzled veteran, Bird nailed the J. Storm by one.
Then after a missed shot, LJ came flying in for the rebound with energy and gusto that was propelled only by an endless uncontrollable desire to win. It is the play that will be overlooked. It is the also the play that exemplifies why LJ should be the MVP.
Five players were all ready for the rebound and LJ came soaring into the traffic and made herself, forced herself to the basketball and the rebound. It kept the play alive and gave Seattle another shot to win the game.
Out of a timeout, Anne called for LJ to get the ball on the left elbow and put it on the floor while being guarded by Ruth Riley. LJ drove the right side of the lane for the win.
One final stop and the Storm had fended off a frightening comeback by the Detroit Shock. They had clinched a playoff birth for the third straight season. They have guaranteed a winning record on the road.
Most amazingly, they just won their fifth straight road game and the last four have all gone down to the wire. In each case the Storm's leaders have shown the leadership to grab a hold of the game and embrace a win.
USA Today recently announced their player awards and Lisa Leslie was the MVP for 2006. Every national commentator and most local ones are picking Leslie. It is hard to overlook her remarkable year and the Sparks fantastic roster.
Admittedly, I have fallen into the trap. The storyline of one of the original players winning the MVP at 34 years old in the 10th Anniversary of the WNBA is pretty strong.
However, each night as I watch LJ perform her magic I wonder how she is not the MVP. Every time I prepare for a game the more amazed I am at her season.
Let’s focus on one number, plus-minus. It is why LJ is the MVP.
Plus minus is most commonly a hockey statistic. However, it is gaining traction in the NBA. It measures how a team plays when a given player is on the floor. For example, if the Storm leads 17-12 in the 1st quarter when LJ leaves the game, she would be +5.
This season the Storm have outscored their opponent by 203 points when LJ is on the floor. However, when LJ is in the bench they have been outscored by 109 points. Overstating it a bit, when LJ is on the floor the Storm are the best team in WNBA; when she is on the bench they are the worst.
What else do you need to know?
Plus-minus is a great indicator of star power. When a team triple-teams LJ and leaves JB or Izi open for an easy basket the +/- shows that. In addition, few stats can show defensive success, but +/- gives credit for defensive stops.
Let’s dig a little deeper into LJ’s impact on the floor.
This season LJ has been limited to just 30 minutes a night. If we extrapolate how the team plays with her on the floor for 40 minutes per night her value becomes even more significant.
Per 40 minutes that LJ is on the floor, the Storm score 84.2 points per game. (the fourth-best mark in the WNBA behind three members of the Mercury) In that span they allow 75.7. Using the same per 40 minutes numbers, when LJ is on the bench, the offense scores just 65.3 points per 40 minutes and allows 76.4.
That is a net plus-minus of 19.6. The only player in the WNBA that is close is Holdsclaw with LA at 18.2. Using these numbers the argument could be made the Sparks need Holdsclaw more than Leslie. (The argument might be faulty since Leslie has played without Holdsclaw and not vice/versa.)
There are no chinks in Leslie's MVP campaign. In her 10th season of the WNBA she has been as good as ever. She is third in the league in scoring, third in rebounding, third in blocks, and top 10 in FG%. Most importantly, her team has been winning and she is at the core of the winning.
LJ’s numbers match Lisa in every way. She is fifth in points, fourth in rebounding and fourth in blocks. Her field-goal percentage is better at #2 in the league; she is #3 in free-throw percentage and #11 in 3-point shooting. It is an insane combination.
So who is most valuable?
Leslie’s team has won more and so the pendulum swings in her direction. However, when LJ has been on the floor Seattle has been every bit as good as the Sparks with Lisa on the floor, if not better. It has been when LJ goes to the bench that the Storm struggle.
It is the most obvious definition of most valuable.
It makes you wonder if LJ is not a Wendy Palmer injury away from another MVP award.
Sitting outside for lunch there is always that one bug that hovers, annoys and never leaves you alone. That was the Charlotte Sting tonight. Luckily, they were without the stinger.
The Storm could never shake the Sting. Forcing turnover after turnover, Charlotte never let Seattle get a huge run to end the mystery. It felt all night like the Storm were on the verge of a vintage Key Arena run, but it never took place.
Yet the new personality of this team showed through again. This team now has a mental toughness that it didn’t have earlier in the season. Somewhere on the last long trip this team became more focused and more grounded. Talking with Sue tonight before the game, she talked about how she has increased her leadership this season and has become more comfortable leading. That leadership may have altered the mindset of this team.
The re-emergence of Janell Burse dramatically changes this team. JB has improved dramatically. The most obvious area of improvement is in her balance. It shows itself in her ability to finish down low as well as her ability to rebound in traffic. Tonight, she dominated the inside with her dynamic duo partner in crime, LJ.
JB is catching better, holding her position in the post better, pump-faking better, and all of it is related to increased core strength. Think about the top centers in the WNBA and JB has to be in the top five along with Yolanda, Lisa, Michele Snow, and Margo Dydek. That is elite company.
Having JB back puts everything in balance. It is scary to think how good the post rotation was going to be with Wendy, but even without Wendy, once you have JB you can use TJ and A-Rebound in situations where their strengths can shine. When the two of those players are asked to play over 20 minutes they are exposed to every matchup and their weaknesses become more prevalent.
A playoff team has to be able to place its players in position to succeed. They way you do this is by having a roster that is versatile enough to adjust to every circumstance. With the services of Wendy and Shaun, this roster was amazing. Yet, even with those two key injuries, Anne is getting this crew awfully close to being able to do the same.
Final thoughts, it was great to see Betty look like playoff Betty. Edveeg is doing a great job as the back-up point guard. Congrats to Anne for passing Michael Cooper and becoming the third-winningest coach in WNBA history.
Lastly, I hope you got to see the LJ-to-Bird to LJ fast break. It was the best play of the year.
Tonight was a strong grinder of a win. The Storm stayed in control for most of the second half once they gained the lead. They didn’t do it with a flashy dynamic run. Instead, they just grinded possession by possession. They were never in jeopardy of losing.
It is clear to me the team is tired. With all the injuries, so many players have been asked to give every ounce that they have in their tank. Now the wear is beginning to show. When a team has the amount of injuries the Storm have had this season they have a cumulative impact on the team. When the players finally start to get healthy the other players are exhausted. That is where the Storm are right now.
Therefore, to professionally focus and get this win against a Washington team that had won four in a row is impressive.
In our pre-game meeting, Richie Adubato said that he had to control two of the Storm three stars - LJ, Sue and Betty. He achieved that, but Janell and Izi were terrific. JB took over the third quarter, scoring 11 points. Izi was great early and then super clutch in the fourth quarter when the offense had to have a spark.
The best part of Izi’s Tizzy is that she has been consistent. She has scored in double figures in six of the last seven games. She has shot over 50% from 3-point range in that span.
Looking back at last year, this follows an Izi trend. In the second half of the season last year, she shot 44% from the field and 41% from 3. This season she has gotten hot as the season winds down as well.
Having JB back in the lineup makes a world of difference. I admire Tiff and A-Rebound for how they battled, but they are not 30-minute-a-night players in the WNBA right now. Having Burse back brings the post rotation into order and allows Anne to use Tiff or A-Rebound based on match-ups.
When this team gets a solid performance out of JB or Izi they are really tough to beat.
We could clinch on Saturday, so make sure you are in the arena for Fan Appreciation Night.
News is beginning to percolate more and more about the Sonics. My friends at 950 KJR and 710 KIRO have been doing an amazing job covering the arena situation, the local government's stand and the new ownership's objectives.
In case you missed it 950 KJR’s Mitch Levy had Bellevue power broker Kemper Freeman Jr. on the air earlier this week. Here is the link to the very good interview. A few things jumped out at me from this interview. First, that he did it. Kemper Freeman Jr. doesn’t do these interviews (he was also on 710 KIRO) unless he has a plan to accomplish something.
In addition, he talked about a good plan. To me that means he has the plan in mind. Whether or not it matches what the Sonics ownership wants is uncertain. Also, he talks about other land in Bellevue besides the Safeway land that has been talked about most often.
Listen to the interview closely. Mr. Freeman reveals that Bellevue is not just beginning in this process. It is well thought out and it may be further down the road than any of realize.
Dave Mahler, of 950 KJR, interviewed Governor Christine Gregoire. Again, it became very clear the Sonics have a supporter in the Governor. I think it is clear here as well if you listen closely that the new group has been already working behind the scenes. The Governor revealed that discussions have already taken place with the mayors of Bellevue and Renton. Moreover, she mentioned that Clay Bennett has reached out and asked to meet with her.
These are great signs since all of us had the same worst fear, that the new owners were not interested in making Seattle work. It is becoming abundantly clear that the new owners are making a strong effort to keep this team in Seattle.
She also gave us one of the first insights into the interests of the new ownership's desires as she said they are interested in a welcome mat. The fan reaction in the past weeks has certainly shown that welcome mat. Just check out the amazing response at saveoursonics.org and saveourstorm.org.
As the Governor mentioned, "I don’t want us to look back and think we should have done more and have to go look for a men’s and women’s professional basketball team."
The ending of this game will overshadow an experience that a sports fan can only experience at a basketball game.
What is being talked about is Betty Lennox losing track of the score in the final seconds and hitting a two-point jumper rather than attempting a 3 to tie. In addition, the Storm uncharacteristically turned the ball over with silly passes and loose execution in the final possessions.
Before that point, the two best players in the world went head-to-head and toe-to-toe, matching brilliant play for brilliant play. The Lauren Jackson-Lisa Leslie match-up has every element that a rivalry could imagine and both players rose to the occasion.
Lauren was willing her team to a victory in the fourth quarter. She dominated inside. Leslie couldn’t stop her in the post as Lauren paraded to the free throw line and finished the quarter with 12 points.
On the defensive end, LJ stymied Lisa early in the game. For most of the night, when they squared one-on-one LJ was able to keep Leslie off her spots and prevent a rhythm.
However, as great players do Leslie found other ways to make her plays. She took advantage of other matchups, she leaked out on the fast break and she snuck behind the zone.
Then, when it mattered most, she spun to the middle of the floor with a gorgeous move for a two of her seven fourth-quarter points. It was a big-time play by one of the best in the world.
Truly there are few times in any sport when the two best in the world match-up face to face. It doesn’t happen in football. In baseball, it can’t happen because they can’t go offense and defense on each other and in both hockey and soccer it is rare.
The sold-out KeyArena got to see it in all of its glory on Sunday night. Leslie made moves that are simply unguardable and absurd for a 6-5 women and LJ answered back with an equally ridiculous skill set.
At 34 years old, Leslie played all 40 minutes scoring 31 points, collecting five rebounds to go with her four steals. Joe Bryant often moved her off LJ, but to play at that level for 40 minutes is a remarkable feat.
LJ played just 30 minutes due to her injury limitations and was still able to score 27 points, snare eight rebounds and block five shots.
The two of them combined for 24-of-40 from the floor and 9-for-11 from the free throw line.
It is a special night when you watch the best in the world perform at their apex.
The two words that signified the road trip were guts and pride. Tonight they reemerged in even more impressive fashion. It is easier when you are winning to dig down deep. Tonight the Storm were an inspiration for how they played when it was all stacked against them.
With a starting WNBA team - one that would win games - out of the game due to injury (LJ, JB, Betty, Wendy, Shaunzinski and Cisti), the Storm never let the All-Star-laden Detroit Shock team get away. The effort and the energy were terrific. These women could have been understandably cashed it in under the adversity. Instead, the energy provided by this group brought a sold-out Key Arena to their feet on numerous occasions.
The leader of the inspiration was Ashley Robinson.
Ashley has shown flashes of being a terrific talent. Tonight she put together a solid 29-minute performance and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. The rebounds she grabbed tonight showed skills that few in the league show. Swin Cash missed a shot that ricocheted off the bottom of the front of the rim and shot down at an unnatural angle. A-Rob grabbed the rebound with one hand below the rim. It was incredible hand-eye coordination.
Other times tonight, Ashley was higher than the crowd, grabbing the board with two hands above the traffic. At other times, she took bumps and grabs and holds and had the power and the athleticism to control the rebound. The versatility on the glass was impressive.
While her inexperience shows at times with defensive rotations and foot position, Robinson also is so long and tall that she is able to affect shots, alter trajectory and be a defensive factor.
This is out of player that was on the WNBA scrap heap three weeks ago when Anne Donovan acquired her. Now imagine for a second what happens when she gets some time with Donovan on the floor in the off-season. Donovan is the best post coach in the women’s game and Robinson is a moldable athlete with a ridiculous amount of raw natural talent. Think about how different a player JB is today than when she arrived in Seattle.
This is another project that is going to yield great benefit for the Storm in the future. Tonight was the night when A-Rob gained the confidence that she is good enough to play in this league. Now Donovan will start her believing even more. For Ashley, tonight seeing was believing.
It has been a little over a week since we were all shocked by the announcement of the sale of the Sonics and Storm to Clay Bennett, Ed Evans and their ownership group. Having digested a week's worth of information, I have decided WE ARE BETTER OFF THAN WE WERE A WEEK AGO.
Follow me on this road and as always let me know what you think by e-mailing me at AskLocke@sonics-storm.com.
Status of the Sonics and the Storm last Tuesday morning:
Fact #1 - The Sonics and Storm needed a new or a remodeled arena to stay in the Northwest.
Regardless of how much we all like KeyArena, the reality of the NBA business model is that to maintain solvency and competitiveness in the NBA the organization had to have a new arena arrangement.
Fact #2 - The Key Arena lease runs out in 2010.
Every day we got closer to 2010 without an arena deal we were getting closer to losing our franchise because every day we got closer to 2010 out-of-state buyers' desire to purchase the franchise was increasing.
Fact #3 - The ownership group and the city were at a standstill.
Negotiations were mired. Progress was not being made. A foundation of trust and a true partnership did not exist.
Fact #4 - The ownership's pockets weren’t deep enough.
Despite the number of owners the Basketball Club of Seattle had, they didn’t have endless pockets. With the accumulated losses of the past seasons and the projected losses in the future with the team in Key Arena, the ownership group didn’t have the capability to sink large sums of money into the arena project.
Considering those four facts I think we, Sonics and Storm fans, are lucky that last Tuesday’s press conference didn’t take place in 2008 in Oklahoma City, Kansas City or San Jose. Had we stayed on the same course there is a strong likelihood that it could have ended without an arena and an out-of-town buyer would have held the press conference in the Sonics new city.
INSTEAD, WE HAVE A CHANCE TO SAVE OUR TEAMS.
One week later, Facts #1 and #2 are still the same. However, they are at the forefront of fans' and legislators' minds. There is no mystery in what we are confronting. We have to make sure that everyone involved understands how important the Sonics and the Storm are to this community.
We have a chance to show that support. We have a chance to remind everyone of the '79 and '04 Championships that basketball has brought to Seattle. We have a chance to remind everyone how much pride sports can bring to a community. We have a chance to remind them what Ray Allen or Lauren Jackson can do for a young child when they come to their school or open a new court in their neighborhood.
That's exactly what the Save Our Sonics & Storm group is trying to do, and I applaud them for their efforts.
Facts #3 and #4 have changed. We now have an ownership group with a clean slate when dealing with the elected officials. We have an ownership group that sees the tremendous upside to a new arena in a top-15 market in the country. We have an ownership group that has yet to accumulate losses. In addition, they are building relationships from scratch with the key players rather than trying to rebuild or repair relationships.
Most of all, we have an urgency from everyone involved that was had never been established up to this point.
Truly, we were further along in day one under the new ownership group. In one day the new group was able to move Bellevue to the top of the discussion. The Sonics had previously been stuck in a quagmire with the city of Seattle, making any substantial conversation with Bellevue impossible.
One week after the bombshell of the sale, most of the issues are the same, but when you dig a little deeper, maybe we are better as fans. The worst-case scenario is a franchise being sold and immediately moved, leaving you without a chance to show its importance in our community. We have a chance and I am confident we will all win.
Let’s show everyone all why the Northwest is a basketball hotbed, why the Northwest has had two first-round draft picks each of the last two years, why the Northwest has had top-10 college basketball on both sides of the state. Why? Because basketball is important and supported in this community.
After the loss in Charlotte, Anne Donovan brought the team together for a team meeting. She pointed out to the team they were playing scared. They were playing tight. She wanted them to become the aggressive, fun loving group that had been so successful.
They have become that group again.
Tonight, they tied the franchise record with their seventh road win of the season by winning their third straight game, a stirring win over the Phoenix Mercury.
For the second straight night, Sue Bird exhibited leadership that Anne has been trying to draw out of her for the last two seasons. Like a conductor at a symphony, Birdy was in control of every movement. She monitored over every possession like a chicken with its new egg. There is no better point guard in the WNBA at controlling those final minutes.
With LJ playing on pure fumes, Birdy recognized the need to take over the game and she scored 10 points in the third quarter, nailing jumper after jumper. Barbara Turner, where BT stands for Big Time, joined with Bird to match the explosion for fellow UConn Husky Diana Taurasi. Taurasi was doing everything in the third, talking trash, nailing shots and carrying the Mercury.
The game turned when both Bird and LJ were on the bench to open the fourth quarter and the bench strung together a nifty three minutes and pulled Seattle ahead 71-70 as the two stars returned. From that point on the Storm took control. In commanding fashion they stretched the lead to its largest of the night and never looked back.
The most impressive thing to me tonight was the team looked like it had lost its focus at points of the game. Fatigue was a real issue. Yet, when the game was on the line, they regained it and took control. Regaining focus is incredibly difficult and I am not sure how often this team has been able to do that this season.
Numerous players deserve huge accolades. Let me spotlight a few. Tanisha Wright had her best game in some time and made two or three plays that swung the game. Edwige has really secured the backup point guard role and Anne talked about how great she has been in the locker room. Ashley Robinson played big minutes in all of these wins and has an incredible amount of upside.
Finally, take a step back and realize what these women just did. They lost JB two minutes into the road trip. Shaun and Wendy are done for the season and LJ couldn’t play the last game before the trip. Somehow they found the guts and the pride to string three victories together.
There was no celebration after the win, because no one had anything left in the tank. They looked like they were going to struggle to get to the locker room.
Somewhat symbolically, here in Phoenix we are experiencing a huge lighting and thunderstorm show. It has been going on for a few hours. For the Storm they have had it going for a few days.
In a city where they memorialize our greatest Americans, the Seattle Storm have laid some of the franchise's best memories.
Four years ago, the Storm continue an East Coast winning streak with a dramatic come-from-behind win. Tonight, Seattle relived its own history with a dramatic season altering win.
Playing with just nine players, the Storm faced every challenge of the Mystics and pulled off a dramatic 73-71 win.
Barbara Turner arrived in D.C. on crutches and didn’t take her first steps on her injured leg until we arrived at the hotel. Yet when it was game time, BT pulled off what Anne referred to as a “minor miracle.” Turner came off the bench for 15 invaluable minutes, including two huge plays down the stretch.
Playing on the back end of a back-to-back, LJ had a bounce in her legs that emanated straight from her heart. Willing her team to the win, LJ said after the game she found the strength to play well "Because of the love she has for Seattle and its fans.”
From the Mystics end, superstar Alana Beard was terrific. She is another of the game's bright up-and-coming stars. You want to mark down August 3 when the Mystics come to town.
The most impressive part of this win is that the Mystics battled back from a 13-point deficit to take the lead at home with 3:20 left in the fourth quarter. At this point most home teams take complete control of the game.
Instead, numerous players made amazing plays to re-grab control of the game and hold on for the win. Izi hit a12-footer on the baseline. BT had a three-point play in the lane. LJ finishing with the 42nd double-double of her career. Bird playing the ultimate point guard leading the team down the stretch with brilliant leadership.
The weather forecasts said Thunderstorms and rain as we went through Times Square. They arrived in the form of Betty Lennox and Izi Castro Marques.
New York is a dreadful team. However, Seattle did exactly what was needed. They struck early and never relented. The game was over in the opening five minutes and never in doubt.
A 30-8 lead closed the first quarter and then a 50 to 23 lead took us to halftime.
Usually when something like this happens in Times Square, it is stopped by officers. The last time Times Square had a mismatch this bad it was when they allowed the street kids to sucker tourists into the shell game or three-card monty.
The bad news was Barbara Turner got injured in the third quarter when going for a rebound and left the arena on crutches. The Storm head to Washington and in all likelihood will be without the services of three of their top six players tomorrow against the Mystics.
Nothing is easy about a playoff run. Except if you face the Liberty in New York.
I have come out of my shell. Sorry for the absence from the blog. The week's events have knocked me off my foundation the same way they did you. However, now it is time to figure out what is going on and what it all means. I have been working the phones, reading everything I can and I am going to do the best I can to share my thoughts and keep you in the loop.
On Friday morning, new Sonics owner Ed Evans spent 20 minutes with Mitch Levy of 950, KJR. Here in New York I listened in via the Internet (click here for the podcast).
For those of you that may have missed the conversation, I thought I would share some of my thoughts. This is a journey that we are going to take together and I will be sharing my thoughts with you throughout the process.
The number one thing that jumped out at me about Ed Evans is that he was straightforward. He wasn’t trying to spin. He wasn’t hiding things. He answered questions without hiding the answer in big words and complicated sentences that left you feeling like the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoon. He didn’t try to make everything rosy. He was honest and understandable.
I find it interesting that Evans was not a part of the group, led by Clayton Bennett, which was responsible for getting Oklahoma City ready for the Hornets relocation last season. His interests are clearly about owning a professional sports team.
I am getting the vibe that this ownership group is a conglomeration of two different groups, Evans and Bennett, that came together to get into the NBA
Remember Evans was a part of a group that was trying to buy the Washington Nationals and wasn’t able to acquire the franchise. He has consistently stated that he wanted in on professional ownership and this was his vehicle. This was a decision about choosing the NBA or not choosing the NBA.
Evans continually mentioned that they wanted into the NBA. He also said that Seattle presented the best opportunity. There were other franchises available; none of them brought what Seattle brings.
This is really important and tells me that he is very interested in getting an arena in Seattle. Follow me on this. Portland and other franchises are for sale. However, none of them have the up side of a top 15 market with a new arena. If they were just looking o move a franchise he could have purchased one of those for less money. However, from a business standpoint there was no opportunity that matches the end result Seattle and a new arena. It blows Portland and the other franchises out of the water.
If Evans can get an arena agreement he has a team in a top-15 market with a new arena. There was no other franchise that offered anything close to that possibility.
At the same time if the arena is not built and they don’t get cooperation from the government officials then they acquired a franchise whose lease runs out in 2010 and they have the freedom to move the franchise.
One of his points was that he and his group were interested more in control than they were geography. This makes sense since Bennett and his group, which to my understand Evans was not a part of, had a chance to buy a minority ownership of the New Orleans Hornets. However, they didn’t want minority ownership - they wanted complete control.
I love that he said he will not hold any of the negotiations about the arena in the media. He has already met with or talked with the Governor and the mayors of Seattle and Bellevue. The most demonstrative he was in the entire conversation was when he said that no conversations have been held with Oklahoma City or would be until they reached a standstill in Seattle.
This is a great change. Looking back, it was a fateful day in February when Nick Licata made the comments about the Sonics lacking cultural and economic impact. The Sonics ownership lashed out publicly, drawing lines in the sand, and we never recovered.
Evans also mentioned the possibility of NBA expansion going to Oklahoma City, which I never heard before. If Seattle can find an agreement to build an arena and New Orleans is able to sustain an NBA franchise then Oklahoma City would be rewarded in that fashion.
This may be too much of a stretch but if that happens I could envision the two ownership groups separating with Evans staying in Seattle (maybe with the addition of local money) and Bennett and his people owning the expansion franchise in Oklahoma City. A deal like that could only get done from the inside.
This group has a loyalty to Oklahoma City. As owners of an NBA franchise they can become very influential on the expansion process or other franchise relocation, whereas standing on the outside they are at the whim of others. Trust me - great businessmen don’t like being at the whim of anyone.
In summation, the impression I was left with was that Ed Evans is a straight shooter. He is not flamboyant or crafty. He wanted very badly to be a professional sports owner. He is an astute business man who sincerely sees Seattle as the best market for success of the Sonics and Storm. This, of course, is if they are able to get an arena agreement.
I am interested in any of your thoughts. Please feel free to email me at AskLocke@sonics-storm.com. I will keep my ears to ground and see what I can find out.
A 31-point swing was the story tonight. The Storm led by 15 and the next thing you knew the Storm were down by 16. The Sun parlayed the confidence they received from a 17-point comeback against Phoenix before the All-Star Break to do the same thing to the Storm tonight.
The first quarter was electric. The crowd was amazing. The Storm offense was in a flow. Then it all started slipping away. Seattle hit just 5-of-14 in the second quarter. In retrospect, the fall of the third quarter started much earlier then when the scoreboard flipped in Connecticut’s favor.
It sure looks like a third time is going to be a charm for the Sun. The last two years they have knocked on the door of the WNBA title, but injuries and a missed jumper here or there and the Sun have come up short.
However, this season they have been able to stay afloat despite severe adversity and it is the sign of a team ready to complete the run. They started the year with Lindsay Whalen seriously ailing from off-season ankle surgery, then they lost Taj McWilliams-Franklin for a stretch of games and now with Nykesha Sales they are surviving again.
For all the talk of their offense, Kevin Pelton pointed out in the Insider Preview that the Sun have the best defensive rating in the WNBA this season. In addition, they have the best top six players on any roster in the WNBA. That makes the Sun the favorite to break through in 2006.
From Seattle's standpoint, tonight is another game where they were unable to stem the tide. In the past, Seattle was able to make a play or two that would stop a run or at least minimize the damage. This season they have not been able to do that.
Trying to figure out why this is the case is a great mystery. The two theories I would throw out would be a Houston hangover and the limited minutes of LJ. One thought would be the losses to Houston have never left the Storm and their confidence has been shaken.
The other theory, which is more plausible, is that in years past LJ was on the floor when the other team made their surge and she would make one or two super-human LJ-only plays that changed an opponent’s 10-2 run into a 10-5 or even a 8-5 run. This would keep the momentum on the Storm side.
This is the way this game was supposed to go. New York is seriously undermanned and in transition, whereas Seattle is trying to gain momentum for a championship run.
Early on I would compare the game to a sailboat race. One of the boats had bigger sails and grabbed more wind and just progressively stretched their lead. Before you knew it they were out of sight.
The story of the game was the dominance in the post. In the first half, JB controlled the game and went to the half with a double-double. Then in the second half Lauren Jackson took over the show and dominated the game. LJ showed every aspect of her game that makes her the best in the world.
Sunday should be great fun. The best WNBA game I have ever seen was last year when the Sun and Storm played excellent basketball all game - unless it was Game 2 of the 2004 WNBA Finals, which matched up the same two teams. The execution was precise. The shooting was great and the pace was fast. Let’s hope for the same on Sunday.
I am mystified. The Indiana Fever plays tenacious defense, never letting the other team breathe, and somehow they allow the fewest free throws in the W. I don’t know how it is done, but whatever Brian Winters is teaching is working. It might just be good enough to break through to the WNBA Finals.
The Fever are the Monarchs of the Eastern Conference. Thanks to their defense, they are able to create enough offense to win.
Seattle could never handle the Fever pressure and their defense. From the beginning of the first quarter the Storm never got into their sets and never got their offense flowing. The only thing flowing were the turnovers. Indiana forced a Seattle-record 28 turnovers.
Indiana was brilliant. They played very well offensively, hitting the 3 and moving the ball. Despite a very limited bench, they are able to play with ferocity every possession. A great deal of that is due to their leader Tamika Catchings and our old friend Tully Bevilaqua.
Their 37-6 run was pure domination and, as I wrote last week, “runs” are the definition of the special teams.
With a very favorable schedule the rest of the season, highlighted by only five road games and three of them against the sisters of the poor in the Eastern Conference, the Fever could get home-court in the Eastern Conference.
Until their loss at home against the Sun, Indiana had won 10 straight at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Storm may have lost tonight to the future Eastern Conference Champions.
I was at the Sonics and Storm practice facility today well after Storm practice had ended and who was shooting a little extra? Betty Lennox, of course.
Practice had been for over an hour, but Betty and Shaunzinski were getting in extra work. It personifies Betty, it is why Betty Lennox has been the Storm’ most consistent player in 2006.
The words Betty and consistent are not words that have usually been intertwined. In the past, Betty and streaky or Betty and firey fit together, but this season consistent and Betty fit.
That is why tomorrow Betty Lennox should be named a reserve to the WNBA all-star team. The competition is stiff with the emergence of the two guard in the W, but at 14 points and 4 rebounds a game, Betty is deserving.
Betty has won games single-handedly for the Storm this season. She has carried the team while it was inconsistent. She has been a rock.
At times I wonder if she has become the old veteran who is motivated by the emergence of the young stars and is making a “wait a moment” statement with her game.
A career 40% shooter, Betty is hitting at 47% this season, which is 4% higher than her career best. She is shooting her highest 3-point percentage since 2002.
The part of Betty’s emergence this year that has not been talked about enough is her improvement on defense. She has been tenacious. She has been committed to the defensive game.
In October of 2004, Betty proved how far her career has come. It would be nice to see her in New York this week, but if not then maybe she will just have to make another Finals statement.
During the on-floor post game interview with Sue Bird after the Minnesota win, I asked her what has changed to make the Storm hit this hot streak. While she said she wasn’t sure, she mentioned, “We were so close.”
In fact they were. The Storm have won four of five and have been in position to win their last 10 games.
Late-game losses at Indiana, Sacramento and Houston have separated the Storm from an unreal run. There are numerous reasons for those three losses. One of them is the brilliant play of the star players of Indiana, Sacramento and Houston down the stretch.
However, if you isolate the focus on the Storm the slightest of improvements means wins in those games. Seattle has improved defensively, Sue Bird has been playing tremendous ball, but maybe the biggest difference in the insertion of Barbara Turner into the starting lineup.
In the three games Turner has started, the Storm are undefeated. She has played 24 minutes a night - up from 16 when she came off the bench. She is averaging 8 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists a game.
The 8 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists is exactly what the Storm need from the small forward position. With the amazing complement of other starters, the small forward just needs to insert a few crocked numbers in the box score.
During the championship season, Sheri Sam had that role and averaged 9 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 30 minutes a game. Sam shot 41% from the field and 26% from behind the arc, both numbers that Turner can equal in a starting role.
More importantly, Turner has brought energy and tenacity to the starting unit that was lacking. While she still needs to learn, her defensive effort and energy are never lacking. Her work on Simone Augustus on Saturday night was her best of the season.
Couple Turner with Shaunzinski Gortman and the opposing small forward is in for a tiring day. An area of Gortman’s game that is often overlooked is how good a rebounder she is for a small forward. If Gortman and Turner can combine for 5 or 6 rebounds out of the small forward position it would be a huge asset to the Storm.
Gortman’s strong play has allowed Izi Castro Marques to play some shooting guard and over the last two games Izi has averaged 7 points and shot 6-of-11 from the field. Plus, she's added 4 steals to the defensive end.
Returning to Sue Bird’s comment about how close the Storm were, let’s contrast what the Storm got from their small forward position in the losses prior to Turner joining the starting group.
In the previous five losses the starting small forward position averaged, 1.8 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists and committed the same amount of turnovers while shooting 3-for-13.
When Bird says we were “so close” the increased production on both ends of the floor from the small forward position may be what has changed the Storm from “so close” to “really good.”
A 19-0 run is what separates the really good or great teams from good teams. With the game in the balance, the Storm went on a 19-0 run against the Minnesota Lynx Saturday.
Great teams, championship-caliber teams, are the ones that can go on runs. The Storm championship team's signature was their runs. I define a run as any time a team outscores its opponent by more than 10 points in a stretch where they give up five or less. In the 2004 season, the Storm did that 35 times in the regular season. That is an incomprehensible number. Over the last five games, the 2006 team has begun to show the ability to have the same dominating runs. The 19-0 surge against Minnesota was the most grandiose, but against San Antonio, Sacramento and Los Angeles, they laid down the gauntlet as well.
Big runs exemplify the ability to both dominate an opponent on the offensive end, but more importantly to be able to shut down the opposing team on the defensive end to ignite a few easy baskets. You can’t have a weakness to go on a run. You have to rebound, take care of the ball and play a complete stretch.
Against Minnesota, the Storm held the Lynx without a basket from the 8:42 mark of the fourth Quarter mark - when the Lynx led 64-62 - until the 4:29 mark, when the scoreboard read Storm 81, Lynx still 64.
That is dominance.
The Storm have now won three in a row and four of their last five and sit at 10-8 with 16 games to play in the regular season. A few weeks ago the roller coaster had reached its nadir, and now an 11-5 finish would establish the franchise record for wins.
We have a week off until we see the Storm again. However, keep coming back to the Locke Blog, because there are a lot of things to talk about: Barbara Turner in the starting lineup, Betty Lennox as a reserve for the All-Star Game, Sue Bird’s revival, LJ’s insane first half of the season and how the Western Conference looks after half the season.
We will touch on it all over the week. Have a happy and safe 4th of July.
Have the Storm turned the corner? Last night’s incredible win over the L.A. Sparks in L.A. would certainty make you believe so.
After the win against the Monarchs, I wrote that the Storm could have turned the corner and we wouldn’t know it because no one plays four games in six nights with two of them being in L.A. and in Houston and does anything but go 2-2. The Storm just went 3-1, the last one without the best player in the world.
That is the big part of the story. The Storm have lost three games this season where they couldn’t play without LJ down the stretch and all of them were on the road, Indiana, Sacramento and Houston.
Last night on the road, they found a way to hold a lead and dominate all night without LJ.
Betty Lennox is putting up an All-Star campaign. In her post-game interview last night she mentioned that she just needed to get over the car crash. If you recall, she got in a fender-bender the night before the season started. She was visibly shaken and unnerved by the event as well as having significant issues with her back.
Since then Betty Basketball has been the most consistent player on the floor. Moreover, she has become a scoring machine. It almost looks like she was inspired by the new generation of players that have arrived this season.
I want to tip my hat to Izi as well. A night after being taken out of the starting line-up she was back in the line-up and played well. At the same time, the energy that Barbara Turner is bringing this team is a great addition.
Maybe the corner has been turned. Five straight home games to create a playoff cushion. Be at Key Arena to cheer them on.
Thanks to Dick Fain for filling in for me last night, I was with Wally Walker and Karen Bryant in the Sonics Draft Room listening to the game, high-fiving and going nuts. What a great win.
See you at the Key on Saturday.
Sue Bird was wondering why everyone thought she needed to shoot more. She led the league in assists last season, so why is there such a demand to shoot? This winter, her Russian coach told her not to shoot. Her brain didn't tell her to shoot.
Therefore, over the last few days Bird sat down with a bunch of her old games. Bird went to the movies and watched WNBA Classic. More accurately, she watched Sue Bird Classic.
She watched the matchup with Portland in her rookie year when she set the rookie scoring record with 33 points. She put on an old Washington game that turned that season around when she dropped 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting.
Bird saw a different player. She saw a player that was forced to carry the offensive role and she was capable of doing the job. She saw a dynamic scorer. She saw a player that impacted games with both her shooting and her passing.
Bird then wondered why she wasn’t scoring more, why she wasn’t more aggressive. Tonight against Sacramento, we saw the old Bird re-emerge and she changed the game.
It is amazing an athlete the caliber of Bird could loose grasp of her brilliance, of her special skills, but that is the beady of sports. Rarely has Bird struggled the way she has at times this season. For her to have the insight to watch the old games to look for the answer is what makes her a star.
Bird’s leadership is an ongoing discussion. She may never be a vocal leader, but this type of dedication to her craft sends a message to the team. It makes it clear that she is committed to winning and carrying the team to great heights.
There are numerous other things to talk about in this game, from the change in the starting lineup with Barbara Turner, the strength of LJ in the post, the strong Storm defense, to the guts of Tanisha Wright playing despite the death of someone close to her. All of them were influential in a much needed win.
Let me leave with a thought. Seattle will wrap up four games in six nights Wednesday against the Sparks. At worst they will finish 2-2. They may have turned the corner and clicked in and they still would go 2-2 with road games at Houston and at L.A.
The answer to the third quarter doldrums was a third quarter explosion. In direct contrast to the Phoenix game and the last meeting with San Antonio, Seattle took control of the game and ran away in the third Quarter.
Betty Lennox set the tone with amazing energy to open the quarter and the team followed with tremendous tenacity for the entire quarter. Seattle had been allowing 23 points per third quarter, but held the Sliver Stars without a point for over five minutes and to nine points in the quarter.
This was a true team effort. Lauren Jackson dominated the inside game early with a commanding performance. Sue Bird showed the aggressiveness that Anne Donovan had requested. The bench bounced back from a poor performance against Phoenix and increased the pulse of the game when they entered.
San Antonio came into the game holding opponents to 39% and the Storm hit on 53% of their shots with 24 assists on 35 field goals.
The last time Seattle beat a team by 30 was in 2004, when they blew out Charlotte. Interestingly, it was last year after last season's low point (a home loss against Washington) that Seattle bounced back against the Silver Stars and proceeded to catch fire for the rest of the season.
The loss against Phoenix was very reminiscent of the Washington loss of a year ago. Hopefully, this will be the game to ignite the Storm again.
Maybe Paul Ball is going to work in the WNBA. Mercury Head Coach Paul Westhead has adapted his system and has found an answer as the Mercury have won four of six after their win at KeyArena Wednesday night. Two of the other wins were against last year's WNBA Finals teams, the Monarchs and the Sun.
For Seattle, another loss at the Key is a bit unnerving. Stepping back to last season the Storm has now lost five of eight at home.
Lauren Jackson was amazing. She made every attempt to will her team to a win with 28 points and 14 rebounds. However, the Storm’s inability to make a 3-pointer and bust the Mercury zone was the difference.
Seattle crushed the Mercury in the opening moments and led by seven, 20 to 13. Out of the timeout Westhead went to a 3-2 zone and the Mercury went on a 10-2 run and never relinquished control of the game.
The Storm tried to regain control at the opening of the third, but the brilliance of Diana Taurasi was more than the Storm could endure. Taurasi lead a 24-5 run, scoring 16 of the 24 points over 5:46.
That is the brilliance of the new generation of players. Couple Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter and you have a vision of the future of the WNBA. For Seattle, it was too much to handle tonight. For the future of the league, it is really exciting.
The Storm were two stretches of basketball away from beating the Monarchs at ARCO Arena - a stretch of three straight turnovers in the third quarter and back-to-back turnovers late in the final quarter. It would have been huge to come back to KeyArena 7-5 and 3-2 on the road trip.
However, when the Storm left on the trip, realistically if they could come home at 6-6 and then play eight of their next 10 in the Key I was going to call it a success. Therefore, the trip is a success.
At the same time, the Storm was ever so close to a 4-1 trip. Losses to Indiana and Sacramento could have easily been placed in the win column. Both of those games were greatly impacted by LJ’s minutes restriction. In both cases, the Storm was in control of the game and then LJ had to take her break.
In the past LJ would quell the other teams run with a superhuman play or two and while the Storm may have been being outplayed during a stretch, LJ would make enough plays to keep the opponents run in check. In both Indiana and the Sacramento games, LJ went to the bench and the Storm never recovered.
Today the Storm went over seven minutes to close the game without a field goal. The Monarchs are champions for a reason and they deserve a ton of credit for wearing the Storm down late in the game. In the first half, the Monarchs played huge minutes off the bench so they were fresh as could be down the stretch while the Storm were finishing the final moments of the Storm Summer Tour 2006.
As Storm fans, we look at everything from a Storm-centric perspective. I would ask you to really try to not let the emotions get the best of you and give huge credit to Ticha Penicheiro today. She simply willed her team to a win. The Monarchs were an energy-less group and she brought the entire team to another level and gave them belief that they could win.
While Seattle does return home with two areas of concern, Izi's play and the inability of Sue to impact every game, they are a much better team than the team that left on the trip. Here is why:
A better team will take the floor Wednesday than the team that left two Wednesdays ago.
Pure unadulterated dominance !!!! Lauren Jackson’s third quarter was amazing. In 8 minutes she had 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks. That is incomprehensible.
"I didn’t want to lose," was Loz’s reaction when I asked her where she found the energy to make the plays in the third quarter. This is the will of a champion. LJ was noticeably uncomfortable in the first half of the game, but she took her unbelievable pain tolerance to a new level tonight.
This win is about the greatness of LJ. However, you can’t overlook the developing Storm bench.
Shaunzinski Gortman played another terrific game. She started the second half for the Storm and was integral in the defensive effort. Gortman had another three steals and three rebounds. Gortman is a naturally shy woman and you can see her coming out of her shell and playing with more and more confidence.
Couple Gortman’s game with another strong performance from Tiffani Johnson and the Storm bench was vital on the back end of a back-to-back. Johnson’s shot looks like she is shooting into a hula hoop. More importantly, Johnson has been amazing on the boards the last two games. Tonight she snared seven rebounds and was 5-of-7 from the field. Last night, Seattle didn’t allow an offensive rebound in the second half and only six boards for half. Tonight they did it again, holding the Sky to five second-half rebounds - only one offensive.
Seattle did exactly what a team has to do to endure the pressure of an expansion team and the grueling back-to-back scheduling. Most importantly, they parlayed a good win last night into another strong performance.
A win on Saturday would make this trip a season-changer. Even if they fall short, to come home 6-6 is a great place to catapult from.
How nice to get a win on the road. Tonight was a fantastic win for the Seattle Storm. Usually if a team is going to win on the road it will take a huge effort from the stars of the team. However, tonight the Storm got an all-around effort to pull off a road win.
Before we get into the individual heroes, let’s hear for the team defense and the team rebounding. The Lynx didn’t get a offensive rebound in the second half of the game. The Storm outrebounded the Lynx 36 to 26 after being behind in the rebounding battle for the first half.
Anne Donovan has been preaching rebounding and it has been a tremendous problem for the Storm since Wendy Palmer got hurt. The Storm has gone from a +6 rebound differential to a -4 since Palmer was injured. Tonight Seattle proved Donovan’s point - rebounding is about effort and not skill.
The Storm defense has been very strong on the entire trip. Tonight was the best they have been. They didn’t allow a 20-point quarter all game and they weathered an unreal performance by #1 pick Seimone Augustus.
Augustus is truly amazing. When I saw Cappie Pondexter this year, I didn’t believe anyone could be better. Well, I am not sure who is better, but both of them are worth the price of admission. In fact, if there is any way to get a TV feed of their matchup on Sunday night, I want it.
Augustus exploded in the third quarter, scoring 15 points. However, Shaunzinski Gortman came off the bench to quell the outburst. Gortman’s length deterred Augustus' scoring and the Minnesota offense left with it. In addition, Gortman snared five rebounds in the fourth quarter as part of the Storm's glass domination.
The other star of the night was Tiffani Johnson. Johnson carried Seattle through the key stretch of the game. With 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, the Storm led by one, 56-55, and LJ had to get a rest. Johnson led the bench in scoring - she had nine points in the second half - and Seattle stretched the lead to 66-57.
With two of the WNBA's top 10 players on the bench the Storm stretched their lead on the road. That is what great teams are able to do.
It has been a frustrating stretch for the Storm, but the signs of this team coming together are there. See you in Chicago.
Apr. 15, 2004 was not just another day to file your taxes. Instead, it was the day General Manager Anne Donovan took a gamble and changed the course of history for the Seattle Storm.
Donovan traded the Storm’s upcoming draft pick in the 2004 Draft, number six overall, and Amanda Lassiter to the Minnesota Lynx and in return she received the veteran Sheri Sam and emerging young center Janell Burse.
The trade was made with intentions of an immediate benefit. The cost of the sixth pick, which the Storm would have used on (and the Lynx did use on) Nicole Ohlde, felt severe. However, Donovan knew her club needed a veteran edge to compliment her young stars in order to make the jump into the playoffs.
Sam delivered the edge and the jump into the playoffs became a championship banner forever hanging from the rafters at Key Arena. At that point, Burse was a dependable answer off the bench to help in the post.
However, did anyone believe that over two seasons removed from the trade the Storm would still be getting the best of the trade?
With Sam and Lassiter having moved on, the remaining components of the trade are the Storm with the 27-year-old Burse and the Lynx with the 24-year-old Ohlde. If the two teams made a trade today swapping these two centers, who would you think got the best of the deal?
Coming into tonight’s game, Burse is averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds a game while shooting 52%. Ohlde, on the other hand, averages 10 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 49%.
JB’s development into a top level center in the W is what makes Donovan’s deal so special. For more about JB’s development, check out our feature interview in this week’s StormCast. Burse has become a legitimate threat in the post due to her dramatically-improved strength. Moreover, at the request of Anne, JB worked diligently during the off-season to add a 15-foot jumper that has opened the floor for the Storm offense.
Ohlde doesn’t have the luxury of playing off two of the greatest players to ever play in Bird and Jackson. Therefore, she faces more intense defensive focus each night than what Burse sees on game day. Surprisingly, after her great rookie year she has hit a statistically plateau.
Who is better is a great debate. That it is a debate exemplifies what an amazing trade Anne made on Apr. 15, 2004.
More often than not when awards are given out, it is like pulling teeth to get an athlete to react to the award and put it in perspective. Today on the practice court inside the Target Center it was the exact opposite.
Both Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson were just ecstatic and honored to have been named to the All-Decade Team by the WNBA. You can hear it in the interview I did with Lauren. She was just glowing. The hug between LJ and Anne was a neat moment. As hard as Lauren is on the floor, off the floor she cares a great deal about the admiration of the people she plays with and the fans that follow her. That was obvious today.
Similarly, Sue is very careful about when she shows her emotions and who gets to see them. Today she was running a hundred miles an hour with excitement. For Sue it is a little different than some of the others on the team. Sue grew up watching the first years of the league and those players she watched didn’t make the team while she did. I asked her what that was like in our conversation today that you can hear.
What jumps out to me about these two stars and the honor they received today is both of them represent the change in the WNBA. LJ symbolizes the foreign game. She is the only foreign player on the All-Decade Team. The globalization of the WNBA is being led by our own #15.
Bird is the modern WNBA point guard. When the league started, the point guards were Sonja Henning, Ticha Penicheiro, Teresa Weatherspoon and others. These were all-pass-no-score point guards. Somewhere in the history of the women’s game this was what a point guard was supposed to do.
Now the point guard is an offensive animal. Bird was the first. Lindsay Whalen has followed and now we are seeing another generation of ball handlers that both pass and score the basketball.
On a personal note and one I am sure you share, it is really fantastic to think that I have been fortunate enough to watch the growth of two of the greatest players of all time. Each and every night as Storm fans we get to watch two of the best show their skills and develop new ones.
To be able to go back and think of the 18-year-old LJ fresh from Australia or the national darling straight from her UConn Championship arriving in Seattle and then look at where they are now as both players and people is what makes following team so tremendous.
Best of all they are both All-Decade-worthy people as well.
We have arrived in Minnesota. I was fortunate enough to sit next to Barbara Turner on the flight. She is really a wonderfully engaging young woman. Our conversation touched on how much she grew up at UConn, how the game had always been easy up to that point and at UConn she gained the work ethic to become the player she is today.
We played a little Solitaire on the computer and then she threw in the DVD of her brilliant NCAA game against Georgia. It was fun to watch her in the college setting now that we know her so much better.
It really has clicked in for Barbara on this road trip. Anne talked about how excited she is during the latest StormCast.
Tonight was another fantastic game in the 2006 season. The entertainment value of the games this season is at an all-time high. Now we just need to get the outcomes to be such that we finish with a smile.
Betty Lennox was terrific early tonight. She hit her first five shots and had 17 by halftime. The Storm took control of the game on a 11-0 run in the early part of the second Quarter. It was not coincidental that Tully, Tully, Tully was on the bench with two fouls at that point.
Sue Bird then took over the game in the third quarter and the Storm took their largest lead of the night up nine. Bird had four 3s in the second half and the final one was filthy.
However, Indiana head coach Brian Winters gambled and went small after Bird put the Storm up nine and the game changed. Indiana tried this in the past with Catchings playing the four and going head-to-head with LJ and it was a colossal failure.
This time it was golden and Indiana went on a 32-16 run.
A few things went against Seattle here. First, right as the switch was made LJ had to take a break to control her minutes. The previous two possessions Seattle had been close to exploiting the match-ups and had they had a few more attempts I believe they would have hit and maintained momentum.
Instead, Indiana got control and Seattle never regained it.
What can’t be overlooked is why Winters had to go small. He was forced to go small because the Storm bench trinity of BT, T and Shaunzinski stymied Catchings and had eliminated her from the game. Catchings didn’t have a field since the 2:22 mark of the first quarter until she got a mismatch with Janell Burse to score late in the third.
That is amazing work by those three bench players of the Storm. It is a great sign for the future matchups when the Storm needs a stopper.
The defense overall was vastly improved and both games on this trip have been very good defensive games for the Storm.
It would have been great to get this game, but starting a trip with the two teams that played in the Eastern Conference Finals last year is no way to pad your win total.
The team had great energy today at shoot around. There has been a heaviness around the team. I am not sure what was causing the feeling. The expectations, the inconsistent start or any other idea armchair psychologists can create.
That seemed to be gone today. Izi was practicing her soccer moves with the oatmeal and orange pretending she was in the World Cup. Edwige Lawson-Wade was matching Izi for each and every World Cup comment.
Sue and LJ had a laugh and a smile to them.
This is exactly what a road trip can do for a team. It gives everyone a chance to come together and do things for each other. This morning it was T who made the bagel run for the crew before shoot around and on another day it will be a different player.
A win tonight would be really big. Indiana is going to be walking into a hornets nest. They have lost three of four and the last won in Charlotte was inexcusable.
A few notes for the basketball junkies. Rebounding is going to be vital. The Sting killed the Fever on the boards in their loss and they have been focusing on that for two days.
Indiana runs almost all of their plays starting with a player on each elbow (where the free-throw line meets the outline of the key). The first pass goes to one of the post players and they start all their action off of that first pass. Sometimes they pick with the other post into an immediate pick-and-roll and other times they drive and dive. It will be a good test for the post defenders.
There were a lot of good signs out of stop #1 of the Storm Summer Tour. A loss to the Sun is not something that sits well with the women or the coaches, but we saw a lot of things that this team can build upon.
The game was lost by a slow start against a hot-firing Sun team that had been poor to start games in their early games. Clearly, it was a point of emphasis for the Sun going into the game.
Other than one other stretch late in the second quarter, Seattle really played with or outplayed the Sun for most of the game.
The road has been a tough place for the Storm, but today they had all the features of a team that will be able to win on the road. The bench was solid throughout the game. Barbara Turner continues to improve as she set a career high for her second straight game. T, Shaunzinski and Tiffani all brought energy and played well for most of the evening.
In addition, the team had a fight to it that has been missing in some of there games. They battled back throughout the fourth quarter and it felt like they were going to make it all the way back on numerous occasions. However, they couldn’t knock down the door. On four occasions in the third quarter they were within five with a chance to get to one possession and never cashed in the check.
Defensively, the Storm had a huge focus on the ball screen defense and that was vastly improved. Overall, this was a strong defensive game. Unfortunately, there were a few possessions they let slip away. I am not sure if that is emotions getting the best of me and if I re-watched the game would I say 'Okay, that is how the ball bounces,' but it felt like every time we needed a shot or rebound or a turnover it went the other way.
Finally, JB was a goddess. In training camp, I wrote a blog about how I thought she could win the Most Improved Player this year that she deserved last year. Her game is so well-rounded with the 15 jumper now a viable option. Her balance around the basket is vastly improved. Either the improved balance or the improved confidence is also making her stronger and more assertive in her game.
She is coming into her prime and she is being coached by the best post coach in the game. It is a dynamic combination.
Losses are never good, but this one may be a positive turning point.
Elise and I are both big American Idol fans and Elise got to meet Carrie Underwood when she was in Memphis for the NCAA Tournament with the Washington Huskies. She has never let me hear the end of it. Tonight former AI contestant Ayala Brown is signing the national anthem. She will also be joining our broadcast in either the first or third quarter of the game.
Shootaround Update: Taj McWilliams-Franklin is in Italy for her daughter’s high school graduation. The key to the game will be ballscreen defense and Anne spent a huge amount of shootaround on defending the ballscreen. It almost felt like a practice.
Anne had a great teaching moment with Janell Burse today. JB and Anne weren’t on the same page on how to play the ballscreen and Anne first asked JB what she was seeing in order to understand where she was coming from and then proceeded to demonstrate what she wanted. It is what makes Anne such a strong coach.
Good Morning. It is 5:16 a.m. in Chicago, 3:16 in Seattle and the Storm Summer Tour is officially underway. We have arrived in Chicago waiting to connect to Hartford and then in Hartford we bus for over an hour to Mohegan Sun.
Dick Fain, who is traveling in place of Elise Woodward for this trip, just brought up a good debate. Should he have a muffin since it is 5:16 or should he have the brownie and call it dessert?
There was a great scene as we left Sea-Tac last night. Three young girls - Emily, Stephanie and Jen, all around the age of fourteen - came to the United Airlines ticket desk to “help” their mom as the Storm checked in for their flight. It was everything that makes the WNBA a special league. The look in the eyes of these young girls as each player checked in and they “got” to take each player's bag and put it on the baggage belt was a vivid reminder of what value this league has for young women.
Prompted by Storm Director of Basketball Operations Missy Bequette, Equipment Manager Andrew Starmer took the time to have three “Seeing is Believing” t-shirts signed by the players on the bus and then presented them to the girls when the team was checking in for our flight. You would have thought they were granted a school year without homework. The giddy smiles and laughs were priceless.
It seems so simple, but it is what separates the WNBA from other leagues. The life impact to have female athletic role models for these girls is hard to amortize. The league’s slogan this year is "Have you seen her?" These three youngsters saw them and are probably telling everyone.
It was a great way to start the Storm Summer Tour.
Maybe this can spark all of us to go out of our way to help give other young girls the same experience, whether it the daughter of a co-worker or a youngster in the neighborhood find someone and bring them to Key Arena for an upcoming Storm game and you will see the same vivid sparkle in their eyes.
UPDATE - It is now 11:15 a.m. and we have arrived at the Mohegan Sun. The players have a meeting to go over film in Coach’s room at 3:30 then they will practice in the arena at 4. At some point, they will catch up on sleep.
Every night we get to watch the best in the world in Lauren Jackson. Tonight she became the fastest ever to 3,000 points in WNBA history as well as the youngest. She looked like a major-league player playing Class A talent she was dominate in every capacity. What a pleasure to watch the best every night.
Seattle got sloppy with the ball and the Sky took advantage. The Sky’s energy was so high that Seattle was never able to run away with the game. Truly this game went very similarly to how most of the Sky's games have gone this season. They are able to play with the opponent due to high energy, but when it gets down to money time they are unable to make the plays necessary. It should be a theme long-time Storm fans remember.
Barbara Turner is looking better and better each night. This was a very good matchup for Barb as the Sky are lacking in post size, allowing her to play down on the block where she is most comfortable. Her strength and ability are allowing her to draw fouls and still stay with the play to finish.
There was a lot of adversity for the Storm tonight. Both LJ and Sue are battling colds. The injuries to Wendy and Tiffani left the post really depleted and the pending plane flight and road trip is always a distraction - not to mention the lingering loss to San Antonio. Considering all of those factors, this was a strong showing by the Storm.
Now the Storm Summer Tour starts. This is as tough as it gets. It also might be a great chance for the team to spend time together and get some identity.
Add another contender to the list in the Western Conference. The San Antonio Silver Stars have now defeated the Houston Comets, the Sacramento Monarchs and the Seattle Storm - all on the road.
They won this one on the boards. The Silver Stars garnered 52% of the available offensive rebounds. On every key possession the Stars got an extra opportunity.
The game was defined by runs and the Silver Stars got the final one. Seattle opened the game on a 17-4 run, hitting nine of their first 10 shots and hitting five straight from 3. Then the Stars went on a 14-3 and the Storm answered with 8-0 run and led by nine at the half.
But the game of runs went in favor of the Stars after the horn sounded for the third quarter. The Stars shot 12-of-16 from the field in the third quarter and took their first lead with a minute left in the quarter.
The Storm looked to have the game in hand with an impressive surge and led by seven with 4:50 left in the fourth quarter. Shockingly, the Storm couldn’t close it out. The Stars went on a 12-3 run to win the game.
The swagger of a championship team is missing from the Storm. The good news is the roster looks good. Each player as an individual is playing well and when it jells this team has the possibility of being extra special.
In the meantime, they need to find a way to play free. Their body language is that of a team feeling the pressure and feeling a burden. The Storm has as much talent as anyone in the league.
Rebounding today was obviously a disaster. It is almost impossible to beat a team that gets 15 more shot attempts at the basket.
Chicago and a road trip may be the perfect script for the Storm. The Sky should allow Seattle to focus on their game rather then having to adjust to the opponent.
However, we all remember how hard expansion teams play. The road trip may be time where without any other outside elements other than games they bond.
In the meantime, the Silver Stars have to be thought of as a playoff team in the Western Conference.
Seeing is believing. No one left the arena tonight without a smile on their face. That was great. I mean great great. Holy smokes great.
The game had everything. It had great offensive output by both teams. It had superstar performances by Lauren Jackson and Cappie Pondexter and plays that brought you out of your seat on numerous occasions. It had a franchise record points in a game.
This is the game you wish every doubter of the league came to see.
The paradox is that the game was largely won by Anne Donovan’s ability to go to two defensive stoppers in the late part of the game when she went to Tanisha Wright and Shaunzinski Gortman to slow down the amazing Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi.
Cappie Pondexter was a show stopper. She is amazing. She will win a scoring title in this league. She is the modern-day player. Pondexter is every reason why to believe the WNBA is here to stay and going to get better. When she was a teenager she got the WNBA logo tattooed onto her arm and has clearly trained every day since to be ready for this league. She is not only ready, she is an All-Star. Her game is different than then the old-school player.
Take one example. At the end of the third quarter the Mercury went to a 1-4 set which clears out for one player. Traditionally in the WNBA, the ballhandler has to drive to the basket to get any points or draw a foul. Pondexter crossed over at the free-throw line and rose up to nail a filthy jump shot. This was Tracy McGrady, not Cynthia Cooper. The game is changing.
From the Storm standpoint, the offensive glass work won the ball game. The Storm garnered 49% of the potential offensive rebounds. The bigs used their length and strength to dominate inside.
Lauren Jackson was unguardable and her outside shot looks like it is back on 2004 form. That makes her the best player in the league.
Janell Burse’s increased strength and balance has changed who she is as a player down low. Her ability to stay with plays tonight was terrific.
Wendy Palmer used every old-school trick to clear space and be a force on the inside.
This was a terrific night that was made better by a 10-point win. See you Sunday and make plans to bring every person who doubts the WNBA to the June 21 rematch with Phoenix.
The Sacramento Monarchs reminded everyone who holds the title as WNBA Champs. The road to the title is going through ARCO Arena and tonight the Storm looked like they were driving a Yugo over rough steep roads and just didn’t have the horse power.
The Storm struggled early, but at the end of one quarter it felt like Seattle had weathered the Monarchs best shot. Instead, the avalanche had yet to arrive. The Monarchs started the quarter on a 13-2 run. Then with a Storm collapse to close the second quarter, the Monarchs led by 20.
Anne Donovan made her statement about the first-half performance by placing Sue Bird and Betty Lennox on the bench for the start of the second half. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the answer as the Monarchs kept the pressure on Seattle and ran away with the game. The Monarchs put such extreme pressure on the Storm on each possession with their tenacious defense that the Storm never got comfortable. Offensively, the Monarchs were making passes to spaces where the players were going to be rather than waiting for the players to arrive and it made the Storm look a step slow all night long.
Layup after layup after layup was the story as the Monarchs had 52 points in the paint. The frustration on the Storm end was summed up by Donovan during a third quarter time out when, after meeting with her coaches, she looked at the team and said, “I have nothing for you.” The team brought themselves together at that point.
Tough to find a silver lining in a blowout loss, but Betty Lennox finally found her stroke offensively. Lennox had been in the doldrums, but after getting an early game layup she looked comfortable with her jumper.
In addition, Tanisha Wright continued to improve her play as the backup point guard and showed why she was a multiple Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year winner. Finally, Barbara Turner is beginning to make an impact on the game with her energy and tenacity.
See you Friday at the Key. Remember it is Team Appreciation Night. Go to the Key Arena Box Office one hour before tipoff and if you are wearing a team jersey you receive the best available seat in the house for just $15.
I’m back in the United States and ready to head to Sacramento for a little WNBA action. Excuse me if I am a little punch drunk tonight as my wife and I just left a fantastic vacation/wedding in Nice, France and got home at midnight on Tuesday.
Now off to Sacramento for what should be a great game. The Storm and the Monarchs are really the rivalry of the WNBA waiting to explode. They won the past two championships with extremely contrasting styles. The Storm is an offense-centric team with two of the greatest offensive players in W, Sue and LJ. The Monarchs are the greatest defensive team in the history of the W with insane length and a brilliant system.
The new 24 second clock adds another level of intrigue. I believe the 24 second clock works in the Storm's advantage in every fashion; for the Monarchs, I am not sure yet. They have always struggled to get enough offense and this may only exasperate the situation. Defensively, it will either make it impossible to score against their white-line system or it will minimize the difference from the great defensive teams to the poor ones since everyone only has to play defense for 24 seconds instead of 30.
In addition, the Monarchs roster reminds me a good deal of the Storm last season after the championship. This year the Monarchs have a tremendous amount of young players, similar to the Storm of last season.
Finally, this is a huge game for Seattle. Seattle has played one good defensive team this season and they (the Houston Comets) shut down the Storm. In addition, it was Betty Lennox's game-winning jumper from the left wing here in 2004 that propelled the Storm's championship season. A win tonight could start the same.
What a great start to the season. The run to open the third quarter was vintage Storm. They defended. They ran. They nailed big shots and most of all they were relentless. What separates great teams from good teams is that ability to extend a run and keep its momentum. We saw that to open the third quarter.
Sue Bird was brilliant. Bird has been great all of training camp and she carried it over into the game tonight. Point guards have become even more vital with the accelerated pace and that is great news.
Bird's use of angles is unparalleled in the W. Her shot has always been one of the best and tonight it was pure. There is a reason Bird has been first team every year she has played in the league, which is also why there should not be any debate about whether or not she is one of the WNBA's Top 10 players and on the All-Decade Team.
By the way, Bird just surpassed LJ as the all-time franchise leader in steals, 190 to 189.
All training camp we have been talking about Wendy Palmer, now known as Mama P, and her off-the-court value. Now it is time to talk about her on-floor talent. She was the main reason the Storm garnered 81% of the defensive rebounds in the game. Her smarts and talent are a terrific combination. During postgame, Dick Fain pointed out that she also seems to have altered the entire personality of the team.
Finally, the visible camaraderie amongst the Storm players is really encouraging. Everything seems good when you are blowing out the Sparks (those are some of my favorite words to type) and the real test will be if something goes wrong during the season. However, it seems clear that this team has a little magic to it.
This could be a great ride.
Sometimes I still wonder if we realize what we have as Storm fans in Lauren Jackson.
Truthfully envy is the emotion in the world. You can always find a car you wish you had or a house you wish you had. Fill in the blank - it works with most things in life.
That is, unless you are a Seattle Storm basketball fan and you are talking about LJ. Lozza is the best in the world. If we took everyone off their rosters and re-drafted the league she would be the first pick every time. There is no other scenario.
You can even take it a step further. If we took every player in the history of the WNBA and put them in their prime and re-drafted, LJ would be the #1 pick again. Sorry Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie, you are both insanely brilliant and it will be a pleasure to watch you at Key Arena this week, but it is true.
What strikes me about the above concept is that you would be taking every player in their prime and LJ would be the #1 pick. Yet, in fairness, you would probably have to take the 2008 version of LJ to really get her in her prime.
Last year Loz averaged 18 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks and some people thought she might have had an off-year by her standards. That “off-year” left her #2 in points per game, #2 in rebounds, #4 in blocks, #1 in double doubles and #2 in offensive rebounds.
Quite simply the best in the world. More with LJ in the audio blog. She blocks my shot in this interview.
If it weren’t for some very mysterious voting in the WNBA MVP voting, she would have won the MVP in an “off-year.”
On practice on Tuesday LJ, came off a baseline pick, streaking like a gazelle, curled the route at 13 feet, caught the pass and immediately turned and in mid-air squared her shoulders, nailing a perfect jumper.
It was regular for LJ. It was unfathomable when you stopped for a moment and realized she is 6-5. It would be an NBA 7-footer making a play like Reggie Miller.
LJ is not seeing is believing. She really is seeing makes it unbelievable.
Please let’s all make sure we don’t miss how gifted we are to watch the best in the world every night in the WNBA at Key Arena.
The complement of players around Lozza this season will be a nice trinity. Janell Burse is coming off the best season of her career, doubling her points and rebounds per game. Before her shoulder injury sidelined her for the last portion of training camp, JB looked even better than last season.
Last year, Burse improved her post moves and started finishing around the hoop. Her shooting percentage sky rocketed from 43% to 52%. This year she seems to have added a consistent 15-foot jumper. In addition, she has added more post moves.
The combination of JB’s improved development and the defense's attention to LJ make another substantial jump in JB’s game a distinct possibility.
Where would JB tell you to take a vacation and why plus more on the audio blog.
In the off-season, the Storm added one of the few 10-year veterans in the WNBA with the signing of Wendy Palmer. Despite being in her 30s, Palmer is still playing at the top of her game. Kevin Pelton has documented that Palmer is coming off one of the best seasons of her career. Palmer missed Tuesday's practice after getting elbowed in the mouth by a practice player on Monday, but she was back at practice today and feeling much better after suffering a probable concussion.
Find out about Wendy’s shopping habits and car fetish with the audio blog.
The final post spot in the post is unknown as I write this on Wednesday. Simone Edwards gives the coaches comfort in knowledge that she will execute the game plan. Tiffani Johnson comes to camp with a refined body and a nice touch on her jumper. Neither of them has been able to separate themselves from the pack as the fourth post.
Simone will give you a good laugh in this audio blog.
For the 2006 Seattle Storm, the largest area of improvement from last season is going to be at the small forward position. Last year, the Storm never fully replaced all the elements of Sheri Sam’s game.
This year’s small forward is marked by amazing versatility. I fully anticipate at any time one of four different players will play the small forward and all of them fill a different role. Those four are Izi Castro Marques, Barbara Turner, Shaunzinski Gortman and Tanisha Wright.
The trick will be for Anne Donovan to figure out how to keep players in their roles and how to maximize each player with limited minutes available.
The returning starter is Izi. Over the second half of last season, Izi improved greatly, shooting 42% from the field and 41% from 3. Improvement will likely be the theme of the season for the Brazilian with another year under her belt in the WNBA. As she better understands her own strengths and weaknesses she will become a better and better player.
Today at practice on three different occasions she used her lightening speed to accelerate off the dribble and drive by her defender for a layup. This is a necessary addition to her game. In addition, playing another year with Sue, Izi can really prosper running the floor on the wings.
Turner has been the highlight of training camp. Her athleticism and skills set wow me every time I see her. The most impressive part of her game is her consistent activity and tenacity. Kevin Pelton touched on this in his profile of Barbara.
For more on the rookie, check the audio blog about her strength and weakness and off the court fun stuff.
As a rookie, Turner will have her ups and downs. In fact, we have already seen them in the preseason. The first area she must address is defending on the perimeter. In this week’s StormCast, Anne talks about how she is playing small on the outside.
Her offensive game will come around. She will score with hustle. In addition, she has a nice rhythm jump shot and a very strong back-to-the-basket game from her post play at UConn.
While Gortman and Wright are both guards, both of them have played small forward in practice. My guess is Gortman spends a lot of time as the defensive stopper against the numerous great scoring wing players in the WNBA. This is a position the Storm desperately needed last season and Gortman will be able to defend any perimeter position.
Another lineup we have seen at times is Sue, Betty and Tanisha on the floor. Also, we have seen Betty with both Tanisha and Gortman on the floor. Tanisha is becoming more and more comfortable playing the point guard.
This group will allow Anne to find an answer to what ever she challenge confronts her. Moreover, it will produce the crooked numbers you need from the small forward position in terms of rebounds, assists and steals.
The women’s college game is often dominated by the guards. In the WNBA it has been the stars that carried the day. However, that may be changing with the advent of the 24-second clock this season in the WNBA.
Decision-making and one-on-one play are going to be accentuated with the shorter clock. This is good news for the Storm. There is no better decision maker in the WNBA than Sue Bird. Awareness and smarts are two of the top characteristics of Bird’s game and they will be tested as the clock winds down on possessions. The shorter clock may force Bird, an amazing shooter (44% from the field and 43% from 3 last season), to take more shots. Kevin Pelton's feature today offers more on Sue's declining shot attempts and how Anne Donovan would like to see that change this season.
Click here for more on Sue and her Russian travels in the Audio Blog.
As the league’s leader in assists last season, Bird also demonstrated the ability to find the right player in the right opportunity. This skill will be even more vital with the shorter clock.
When all else fails, it is time to call “Fire” and clear out for Betty Lennox. Fear not because of Betty’s poor preseason shooting. We have seen this act before, In 2004, Betty shot 4-for-20 and scored nine points in three preseason games. In the first two regular-season games she had 38 points and 15 rebounds.
Again Lennox’s game is going to be put on display with the shot-clock reduction. During camp the Storm at times went to a play called “Fire” where when the clock gets low they clear out a side for Betty Basketball and let her go to work.
Last season, the WNBA Finals MVP actually improved statistically in 2005, averaging 12 points a game and shooting an improved 31% from 3. For Lennox, the key this season will be finding that edge that makes her unique. For a period last season Betty was more tranquil and that is not what makes Betty great.
For more on Betty, her expansive CD collection and hyperactivity, click here.
The backup point guard role was more closely scrutinized than any battle during camp. The most unlikely candidate won the job in Shaunzinski Gortman. Anne Donovan has always been a Gortman fan. In fact, she tried to trade for Gortman when she was in Minnesota. In the off-season, Donovan had the vision of the long-limbed, lanky Gortman as the perfect compliment to Bird.
While Gortman is not a natural point guard, she has continued to make great decisions throughout camp. Her natural knack for how the game flows will be in valuable. At South Carolina she averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds a game as a senior as an All-SEC performer.
Since entering the WNBA, Gortman has been asked to be a defensive stopper rather than an offensive player. At 5-10, she has the ability to guard all three perimeter positions and will do so for the Storm this season.
For more on Shaunzinski Gortman, hear her evaluate her own strengths and weaknesses in the Audio Blog.
Most of last year’s struggles came on the defensive end. The change from Tully Bevilaqua and Adia Barnes to Francesca Zara and Chelle Thompson had a lot do with that change.
This season, Gortman will bring the defensive mentality off the bench that was lacking. In fact, the combination of Gortman, Tanisha Wright and Barbara Turner could give the Storm an exciting defensive team. (Something Anne alludes to in this week’s StormCast.)
Lastly, Tanisha Wright rejoins the backcourt with a year of experience under her belt. T really shined last year when Lennox was out with the wrist injury as a starter. She brought a defensive intensity and when teams dropped off, she was able to exploit them with her offensive game. As a three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, the defense wasn’t surprising, but she definitely gained confidence on the offensive end. Wright averaged 7 points a game as a starter and we talked about her improved confidence and her shoe collection in this audio blog.
Point guard is not Wright’s natural position and it often takes away from her natural aggressiveness when she runs the point. Nonetheless, she will be asked to take point guard minutes this season and has shown the ability to handle the task.
Last season, Wright took just one 3-point shot all season. She has attempted to add that to her arsenal this season. It has been inconsistent in training camp, but if she can start to make defenders honor her jumper she will become a scorer at this level as well.
Today is a really strange day for me. The Storm is playing and I am not there. It happens every year during the preseason, but it doesn’t make it any less weird.
The Storm plays back to back games tonight and tomorrow against the Minnesota Lynx. Post-play will be significant each night. Tonight, the Storm is expected to be without their regular starters with Janell and LJ out with injuries. Tonight may go very far in deciding who makes the team.
Tomorrow will also highlight the post play because Anne Donovan needs to see how Tiffani Johnson will compliment the play of LJ and Wendy Palmer.
Since we won’t be able to see the game and our correspondence will be limited, I will be looking for a few things out of the box score. The first is the amount of turnovers. I always feel that is a good early season indicator of how the team is jelling.
Another one to watch is first and third quarter scores. Most of the starters will be on the floor for those minutes and it is a good gauge on how the team is playing.
The last one I will check I think will be fun all season long. This is a team that will not have an energy crisis. I look for Tanisha Wright, Shaunzinski Gortman and Barbara Turner to bring a jolt to each and every game. Points will be a bonus, but out of that group I hope we can get eight rebounds, a few steals and a fast-break bucket or two. Izi Castro Marques may have to be added to the Jolt Squad.
Today’s audio blog is a get to know you with Shaunzinski Gortman.
Sue Bird is terrific. Obviously this is not earth shattering news to any Storm fan. However, this blog is about my impressions, my thoughts and what I have seen and Sue Bird is terrific is the #1 thought I have had the last three times I have seen the Storm.
In practice, Sue is in such remarkable control of everything that is taking place - conducting, directing and orchestrating every movement on the floor. She moves players to the correct spot so that the floor balance will switch and then she makes the appropriate pass. She seems to always be one step ahead of the play.
If Bird has a weakness, it is that she is not a vocal leader. It is out of her comfort zone. Her strength is keeping everything on the correct keel by example and by controlling the game. The addition of Wendy Palmer allows Sue to stay in her comfort zone.
A good example happened on practice on Tuesday. Things got sloppy and Wendy sensed Anne Donovan’s frustration and took the initiative to stop practice and bring all the players together. What a huge move by Wendy. It is exactly what the team needs. This is not something Sue would be likely to do. However, once everyone was together, Sue took a large role in the discussion of how practice was going and what needed to be done. It is why Wendy is the perfect complement to Sue and Lauren Jackson.
This is a great sign for Storm fans. Today’s audio blog is two minutes with Sue Bird talking things other than basketball.
Here are some other observations from practice the last few days:
That is what we call domination. The Liberty are really short on talent this year due to free agency and international defections and the Storm did a great job taking advantage of that.
The first thing that jumps out at me is how far ahead Seattle this year from last year. In retrospect, last year really was a rebuilding campaign. The Storm played five inexperienced players and this year Barbara Turner will be the only one. The team looks together. The roles are already defined. The rotation is close to established.
Speaking of rotation, the versatility that Anne Donovan will have with this year’s club is fantastic. Shaunzinski Gortman brings an element that the Storm have never had with the ability to play all three wing positions and, more importantly, defend all three wing positions.
If this year’s slogan is Seeing is Believing, tonight would be "seeing is a good reminder." In other words, we were reminded what fantastic players Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson are. Over the off-season it is easy to forget how great they are. Tonight was the reminder.
The new 24-second clock may put an increased onus on Bird and that can only be a good thing for Seattle. There aren’t many teams that have a point guard with the offensive capability of Bird. There aren’t a lot of players in the league that can just beat someone to get their own shot and those players that can will be incredibly valuable.
Defensively, the Storm was much improved, but it will take some time before we can tell how much of that was the Storm and how much was the Liberty's lack of talent.
One of our new features this year as part of the expanded coverage at storm.wnba.com is that Elise Woodward and I will record a postgame audio recap after each game this season. Check out our first edition after tonight's game.
At times during training camp, Janell Burse has been the best player on the floor. Calling her dominant might be too much, but describing her as a force would be underselling her play. It is just another reason why this year’s training camp feels so good. More on that in today’s audio blog.
Last season, Burse should have won the league’s Most Improved Player. Instead, a former #3 pick of the draft, Nicole Powell of Sacramento, won. She should have won the most misused award by Charlotte, her original team, but that is a sidenote.
How do you respond to being edged out as the Most Improved Player? How about winning it the next year? Thus far in camp, Burse looks like she is on the verge of taking another jump in her career. Another sidenote - this is not unprecedented with a post player. Check out the two jumps Michelle Snow's game has made over the past three seasons.
Last season, Burse's shooting percentage went up nearly 10%. That is unfathomable. Her points per game doubled and her rebounds nearly did the same. Most importantly, she started all 34 games for the team.
The change in Burse’s game came from her work with Head Coach Anne Donovan. She simplified her post moves. She became increasingly more confident with each outing. Most impressively, the league adapted to her game midway through the year and then she altered her approach in the post to counter how the defense was playing her.
This year, Burse has looked even better. Her play may be the key to the season. With Lauren Jackson limited in her minutes per game due to her problematic shins, Burse will need to combine with Wendy Palmer to carry a larger load.
In camp the Storm has been really accentuating early post-up opportunities for Burse and she has embraced it. Sprinting down the floor Burse is able to get deep in the lane and her left-handed post moves have been deadly. She has been equally good out of each block and her balance is dramatically better then it once was when she is making her post moves.
Two plays in practice have stood out the most. One was a post move where she was bumped by the guy who was guarding her and she was able to muster enough strength to stay with the play. The other was on a post move from the right block she spun into the middle looking for her left-hand shot, but it was taken away and she passed out to a shooter. I am not sure she had the ability to make the pass out of the post like that the last few seasons.
Both of these plays are representative of improved balance and that will make JB vastly improved.
Walking into the gym today and seeing Sue Bird just brought a smile to my face. Storm basketball has finally started. Kevin Pelton has written today’s feature story on the Bird being in the house. Practice had a totally different feel to it today with Bird on the floor.
Bird’s presence gives Anne Donovan a reference point for every other guard in practice. For the past weeks, everything has been words to the younger players and now with Bird in practice Donovan can say, "Did you see that?"
That is exactly what happened when Bird took the perfect angle coming off a pick in the pick-and-roll game and Donovan stopped the practice to show how if you do it correctly like Bird did, then either you will be open or the defense has to react and leave another player open.
For more on the little things that Bird does and another insane day from Barbara Turner click here for the audio blog.
If you ever wondered how much Bird cares about winning and the Storm this story will tell you. During this off-season, Donovan was at her computer when she received an e-mail from Bird. This is not uncommon. Bird is a bit notorious for her texting and e-mailing the coaches during drafts and free agency or at any other big moments in the franchise.
This time it was different. It was February and Bird was still thinking about the loss to the Comets and it was stewing. Bird e-mailed Donovan to find out what she had to do to make sure this never happened again. What did she need to do? Unlike a lot of players, she wasn’t looking to place the blame elsewhere; she was going to change things herself.
It built into a nice dialogue with the main point that Bird could be more assertive and aggressive with the team both on and off the floor. This is all part of the building process for Bird. It will also be part of what Donovan needs from Bird on the 2008 Olympic Team.
There are two main stories here. First, the Seattle Storm is on the forefront of Bird’s mind 12 months a year. Most importantly, this women is obsessed with success and winning and what happened to close the 2005 season was something she will work every day she can to avoid ever experiencing again.
If initial impressions are worth anything, Bird seemed incredibly optimistic about where the team stands as she arrives. She admitted that last year everyone was overly worried about all the new pieces and how young they were.
This year, she can tell that the veteran influence of Wendy Palmer has already had an impact. Moreover, there is a comfort level amongst this group that was built last year.
Storm season can begin. There is a bird in the house and her name is Sue.
The Storm also made two cuts to the roster today, requesting waivers on Toccara Williams and Dalila Eshe. The Williams cut might surprise some people. However, having been at practice, I made up a word to characterize Williams play: “inevident.” It might be self-explanatory, but the comment means that it was never evident if she was on the floor or off the floor. She had no impact on plays and she was not evident in the flow of practice. If I hadn’t been watching her to see if she could fill the backup role, I could have left the gym and wondered if she had played.
The other side is that Shaunzinski Gortman has played well and shown an ability to play the point guard. During Tuesday’s practice, one the guys on the practice squad was on fire. Call him Dude 1. Dude 1 was killing people. He was driving through the paint and hitting jumpers. It was Dude 1’s world. Dude 1 was a small forward type. Donovan stopped practice and put Gortman at the point and had her cross-match onto Dude 1. Dude 1 quickly became very quiet.
Also, Tanisha Wright can assist Gortman with the ball-handling duties as the backup point guard.
I am not sure this necessarily closes the book on the point guard battle. Waiver wires can do crazy things and there may be a player or two down the line whom Donovan deems appropriate to bring into camp.
Sue Bird is in town. Now the season can get started. Sue should practice on Thursday, but if all goes well on Friday, Anne Donovan will have her crew for the first time. With Izi Castro Marques here, last year’s starting five will reunite. Lauren Jackson will practice and the Seattle Storm will be taking shape. Lauren also will be live at the Bellevue Starbucks on Saturday from 3:30 to 4:30. Lauren is quite the constant in our house right now after my three year old realized he wore her jersey earlier this year. For more on that, check out today’s audio file.
Sunday we all get to see it in person with the first preseason game against the New York Liberty ). In all honesty, the camp needs Sue to arrive. Everyone has pushed their talents to the maximum, but it is time for someone to come in and run the show. It is time for players see how the offense runs at its optimum with a natural point guard.
The last two cuts of Erin Grant and Lindsey Yamasaki were not surprising from watching practice. Grant’s lack of size and strength was too much for her to overcome.
The most interesting moment of practice from Tuesday took place after practice when Donovan took rookie Barbara Turner aside. Donovan shared with use her huge expectations of Turner and how much she adores her game in this week’s StormCast.
However, it was obvious on Tuesday that Turner did not have her usual energy. This is partially because it is so obvious when she does. In other words, when she wasn’t impacting every play and she was on par with everyone else it stood out.
Donovan’s message to Turner was how she needed to learn the pacing of a WNBA season. For the first time in her career she is going to have to play back to back games in different cities. For the first time she is going to people who are physically able to match her strength and her intensity. Therefore, she is going to have to learn how to get herself going when her body is saying no.
In addition, Donovan told Turner that she has to communicate with Donovan so she can manage her and do what she can to help Turner get going. It is a good example of the forethought and brilliance in Donovan’ coaching. Touch on what will be a season-long issue for Turner and any rookie and start planting the seeds of how to deal with now.
Turner very well maybe on an island in regards to how to deal with this. It looks unlikely that this year’s team will have any other rookies on the roster, in contrast to last season when the Storm had five different first-year players.
It is crunch time in the position battles. With the first pre-season game on Sunday night (6:00 p.m., KJR 950 AM, ) and a road trip coming shortly thereafter, the roster must take shape.
Today was the first time all camp we saw the starting frontcourt of Lauren Jackson and Janell Burse on the floor together. It made a huge difference in practice. Burse was the highlight of practice. (For more on that, click here for other thoughts from today’s practice in today’s audio report.)
Let’s break down how the roster is playing out. Teams can carry 11 players and then have the choice to carry up to 13 players. Having extra players on the roster is much less important in a truncated season like the W rather then the NBA.
Eight spots seemed solid. Last year’s starting line-up returns: Sue Bird, Betty Lennox, Izi Castro Marques, Burse and LJ. (By the way, LJ will be at the Bellevue Starbucks from 3:30 to 4:30 on Saturday.)
Three bench spots are fairly certain: last year’s first-round pick Tanisha Wright, this year’s number one pick Barbara Turner and free agent pick-up Wendy Palmer. While we're talking about Turner, I'm not the only person has fallen for her. Check out what Anne Donovan said in this week’s edition of StormCast.
Simone Edwards is back in camp. She brings such electricity the building with her personality. In addition, she has subtly improved her game each of the last few years, including shooting 59% from the field last year. Teams would be hard-pressed to find a better fourth post on their roster.
The only issue is that none of Seattle’s post players are bruisers. It is a missing component to the roster and something I am sure the coaching staff will keep an eye on. Former Houston Comet Tiffani Johnson will be coming to camp and she adds that dimension if the rest of her game is up to standard.
Here is a quick breakdown of the other players in camp and their strengths.
When this season ends, Wendy Palmer will have averaged somewhere around double-figures scoring and five or so rebounds a game. For an Xs and Os breakdown of how Palmer will help the team, click here for today’s audio breakdown. However, her greatest value to the Seattle Storm may be taking place every day of this training camp.
Anne Donovan said it best - Wendy Palmer is “gold.” Her 10-year veteran presence is evident in every drill of practice. She stood on the sidelines with her grey sweatsuit drenched top to bottom and instead of taking one play off, she yelled encouragement to all her teammates on the floor. More impressively, she moved to the side of the floor where second-round pick Dalila Eshe was starting the play and she talked her through every step of the offensive set.
In her own play, Palmer sets the tone every time she steps on the court. The most noticeable example was when she took a jumper from the left baseline about 19 feet out and it missed. While every other player on the floor seemed to take a deep breathe thinking the play was done (it was a half-court drill so there was no rebound and transition opportunity), Palmer grabbed the board and put the ball back up in. It was a clear message from a 10-year veteran to play out every play.
If Palmer has missed anything in practice, it's that on numerous occasions Donovan has had to remind her to take the shot more often when she instead attempts to set up a younger player to give them confidence.
After 10 years in the league there is only one thing left for Palmer to accomplish, and that is to win a championship. Donovan brought her to Seattle for her leadership and because the team needed the veteran who had a one-track mind focused on a championship.
For Palmer the drive is also the love of the game. She talks about the off-season as a time when she misses the daily grind, misses the thrill of playing competitively and craves the chance to play again. Her passion for the game is obvious.
Last year’s camp really struggled until Sue Bird arrived from Russia. This year things have been much better largely because of Palmer and her leadership.
Palmer's game may not be the same as she had in 1998 when I called her games in Utah or in 2000 when she put 32 points on the board against the Storm when she played for Detroit (the opponent individual record against the Storm for some time until Sheryl Swoopes broke it in 2004), but it is still strong and her leadership is a perfect compliment to the Storm.
Today’s practice was mostly about offense. This training camp has been very defense-oriented, but with just a week until the preseason games start, Anne Donovan really put the emphasis on understanding the offensive sets.
A lot of the conversation around the offense was about the change from the 30-second clock to the 24-second clock. That is the focus of today’s audio file.
Without question, my favorite part of practice is watching Donovan coach. She is a master. Today she spent a huge amount of time communicating to each player why they need to be where they are on the floor and how they are impacting the other four players on the floor. When players grasp that, you get that very special chemistry on the floor.
In addition, Donovan’s ability to see everything that is happening on the floor at one time is magnificent. On numerous occasions, there were plays where she noticed something on the weak side while most of the action took place elsewhere. She also notices the slightest alterations in a player’s spacing and how that impacts the passing lanes and floor balance.
A good example of this is that the wings were struggling on the insert pass and she was working with them on how to create those angles. Then, after the pass, she kept reminding the wings to move away from the ball to pull their defender away from the post player.
Some other observations from Friday’s morning sessions:
The two cuts made last night (one was point guard Leah Metcalf - for an update on the point guard situation, click here to listen to today’s audio file) caught most people’s attention today, but I am here to tell you about Barbara Turner. Let me tell you, seeing is believing.
Storm fans, you are going to love Barbara Turner. After practice today, a group of us got to chat with her and she is engaging, thoughtful and a pleasure to be around. The best part is the woman can play.
In the media world we talk about players that can fill up your notebook. Turner gave the reporters enough stories they could write a story about her every day. That's not to mention the amazing things Anne Donovan said about her after practice.
Donovan said that Turner has the unteachable “it.” The “it” is the incredible ability to play every possession with your maximum energy. Think Tamika Catchings. Donovan raved about her competitiveness and how she will not allow a play to go by that she doesn’t impact. Donovan even said, “She is going to be very good. Those aren’t flashes, that is her game.” Let me tell you, the flashes are terrific and if those aren’t flashes that is good news for Storm fans.
Before we get too excited about her game, let’s all take a deep breath (this is mostly meant for me) and remember she is not playing against fellow top-level WNBA players yet and there still is going to be a lot of adjustment. Turner even admits that defensively she is really not sure of herself yet and that the move from a down-low power player to an open-floor wing player is taking some adjustment.
Now to the fun stuff. Kevin Pelton has already profiled her at storm.wnba.com, but today we learned more. She started playing the game in Ohio with her older brother Cameron, who was four years older. They played two-on-two against the neighbor boys. Evidently, Cameron was pretty competitive and didn’t accept losing under any circumstances. Turner even said it got so intense that she didn’t like playing for a while. Can’t you just see Barbara and her brother going up and down the neighborhood playing everyone almost as a sting - "Hey, you want to play me and my little sister?" and then the little sister could ball.
Talking to Turner is impressive. She makes eye contact. She is very well-spoken and very sure of herself. The phrase “beyond her years” fits perfectly.
In this 10th Anniversary season, Turner is also a great example of how the WNBA has changed the lives of young girls. Growing up in Cleveland, Turner went to Rockers games and her aunt was a season-ticket holder. At an awards banquet, she met then-Cleveland Cavaliers Coach John Lucas. After exchanging numbers, Turner started working out with Lucas in Cleveland. (She also had a personal trainer at this point in high school). Most of those workouts took place with male players and they included current and future NBA players. In fact, she wears #11 in part because of the time she spent with Earl Boykins (now with the Denver Nuggets) during those workouts. Yes, she posted him up.
This is one terrific lady both on and off the floor. When you see her, you will believe.
Things seemed much smoother at the morning practice today for the Seattle Storm. You can never overlook how nervous and uptight some of the free-agent players must be. I noticed two things today that exemplified their pressure. One was how different a player can look from one day to the next. Maybe on day one they were nervous and then they realize they can’t have another bad day so there is more focus and intensity the next.
The other is the reaction to errors. A few players had some struggles today as their skills weren’t translating to the WNBA game. The pressure mounted with each mistake and was visible in their face.
I kept a running recording of my thoughts from practice today. It includes what the drills were and thoughts on Lindsay Taylor and first-rounder Barbara Turner.
Hello everyone. It sure is exciting to be back with the WNBA and inside a month to Opening Day on the 21st on May against the hated L.A. Sparks.
We are really going to intensify and expand the coverage on storm.wnba.com this season. We will have audio downloads as well as podcast shows and blogs - plus all the great stuff that Kevin Pelton has done in the past.
I just returned from practice today. The focus was almost entirely on defense. While I was at practice I talked into my recorder to share my thoughts with you and you can listen to that by clicking here. Sorry the quality isn’t great.
Here are a few opening thoughts. Two items really should be getting headline play for the 2006 Seattle Storm. First, the entire starting lineup returns. That is not something a lot of teams are going to be able to say around the WNBA and the Storm will only make one change in their top seven players with the addition of Wendy Palmer.
Last year, Anne Donovan was very concerned about offensive flow with all the new pieces and this year she will be able to put more of the focus on defense, because the offense will flow naturally.
Second, the move to the 24-second clock is going to have a large change in how the game is defended. Players will now only have to get down and dirty for about 10 to 15 seconds rather then 15 to 25 which is a big difference. Offensively, this will favor teams that have players that can make plays on their own and Seattle has three of the best in Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Betty Lennox. In addition, it will favor teams that can run and we all know how Izi can run. It also can’t be forgotten how good Janell Burse became in the post on single coverage last season.
Those are the thoughts for today. Please check back at storm.wnba.com for more. Also, don't forget to get your tickets - great 6- and 10-game packages are available.