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Storm Watching the NBA Playoffs

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | May 20, 2011

When the NBA Playoffs resume Saturday night, some of the most interested viewers will be Seattle Storm players and coaches. The NBA gives some members of the Storm family a chance to embrace their inner fan, while offering others the chance to study and glean insights that can be applied to the WNBA.

Two of the strongest ties lead to the Dallas Mavericks, who were the league's hottest team before last night's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder brought the Western Conference Finals even at one win apiece. Storm center Ashley Robinson is a lifelong Mavericks fan who traces her fandom back to the days when Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper made Dallas contenders. Robinson has been enjoying this year's Mavericks run.

 Dallas Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle.
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images

Carlisle has been generous in opening his coaching meetings to fellow Virginia alum Boucek.

"It's been really exciting, especially the L.A. series, but the L.A. series only means something if we beat Oklahoma City," said Robinson. "I'm whooping and hollering. I scream and whistle. When (Jose) Barea scores, I start speaking Spanish. I'm all into it."

Storm Assistant Coach Jenny Boucek has entirely different ties to Dallas. Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle is, like Boucek, a graduate of the University of Virginia. That connection helped Boucek and Carlisle strike up a professional friendship. Boucek is also close to Assistant Coach Dwane Casey, who served in the same role with the Seattle SuperSonics during Boucek's first stint with the Storm. During the winter, Boucek paid a visit to Dallas - staying with women's basketball legend Nancy Lieberman, who is coaching the Mavericks' D-League affiliate in Fort Worth - to learn more from Carlisle, Casey and the rest of the coaching staff.

"They opened up all their coaches' meetings, games, practices, shootarounds, individual practices," said Boucek. "They let me come and just learn. It's like a think tank when you go to those organizations because they have so many people on their staff. They've got sports psychologists, they've got statistical analysts, they've got coaches who have been in the league for years and years and years and they're all in the room every day brainstorming about how to maximize their team."

For Boucek, the Mavericks were a natural fit for a variety of reasons, including the similarities between the teams' personnel. Both Dallas and the Storm are built around an MVP post player with an impressive inside-outside game (Dirk Nowitzki and Lauren Jackson, respectively), and they boast two of the game's best passers as their point guards (Jason Kidd and Sue Bird). The Nowitzki-Jackson comparison has existed for years, and has been renewed with the Mavericks' star playing some of his best basketball during the team's playoff run a year after Jackson won her third MVP.

To varying degrees, Storm observes who should know find the comparison apt.

"The most obvious thing is that they're just elite shooters with great size," Boucek said. "I don't know if people can quite appreciate how good shooters they both are. They're about comparable sizes for the men's/women's game. The other thing that goes along with that is the intangible of the mental toughness they both have. They both are as tough go-to players as you'll find. They both make free throws, which is a huge benefit to teams down the stretch in games. They both also are willing and able passers. They draw help and both are very unselfish team players who are willing and able to make the next pass."

"LJ's a better defender than Dirk," said Robinson, "but the way that they're so tall and shoot like guards and have a good all-around offensive game, they're a lot alike. LJ's meaner and plays better D than Dirk."

"I think Dirk Nowitzki is one of the greatest shooters ever to play," added Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "He's not the athlete Lauren is. That's not a knock against Dirk; he's a tremendous player. She's quicker, a better defender. But Dirk can flat-out shoot."

In addition to the personnel aspect, Boucek finds Carlisle's offensive system particularly applicable to the women's game.

"He believes in a lot of what we like and what works best in our league, which is multiple actions," she explained. "There is a lot of deception, misdirection stuff, and there's a lot of flow and continuity. Those are the things that we have to do because of spacing issues that we have and the defensive rules."

Agler is looking at a wider variety of offenses and defenses when he watches the playoffs on a regular basis.

"I think it's interesting to see how teams try to defend really good players," he said, "how teams try to defend pick-and-rolls, watch some of the spacing teams have. So I pay attention that way, watch the Xs & Os."

Boucek's NBA ties go beyond the Mavericks. She spent the 2006-07 season doing advance scouting for the Sonics, and still has a connection to former Seattle Head Coach Nate McMillan. McMillan's Portland Trail Blazers happened to be in Dallas while Boucek was visiting, and she was able to attend their shootaround and coaches' meeting. On the opposite side of the playoff bracket, Boucek is equally tight with the Miami Heat's coaching staff dating back to her days coaching with the Miami Sol. Boucek worked under Ron Rothstein, now an assistant coach for the Heat, and recalls playing pickup basketball with Miami Head Coach Erik Spoelstra when he was a video coordinator early in his career.

Should the Heat and the Mavericks meet in the NBA Finals, Boucek would be torn. She figures she'd simply root for good games and be glad that both teams advanced so far. Robinson would have less difficulty picking sides. Right now, she's having a tough time cheering against Oklahoma City's Nick Collison, a friend from his days in Seattle, but Robinson is all about her hometown team.

"I'm rooting for them to go all the way this year," she said.

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