Insider Preview - Storm vs. Tulsa
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com
Sunday, July 25, 6:00 p.m.
TV: KONG 6/16
Radio: 1150 AM KKNW
LiveAccess: Live Video
Promotion: Go Red Night and Swin Cash bobblehead giveaway (first 4,000 fans).
When the season began, Nolan Richardson referred to his Tulsa Shock charges as a semi-expansion team. Given the heavy turnover when the team moved from Detroit to Oklahoma and Richardson took charge of basketball operations, that seemed appropriate at the time. Now it appears to be an understatement. On Friday, Tulsa traded center Kara Braxton to Phoenix for Nicole Ohlde and a future first-round pick. Braxton became the third holdover Shock player traded since the start of the season, joining guard Shavonte Zellous and forward Plenette Pierson. Now, only Alexis Hornbuckle remains from the Detroit roster Richardson inherited.
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com
In part, the turnover was out of the Shock's control. The veteran core of the Detroit team that won the WNBA championship three times (2003, 2006 and 2008) had little interest in making the move. Taj McWilliams and Katie Smith left as free agents, Deanna Nolan decided to sit the season out and Cheryl Ford was waived after she had to undergo preseason knee surgery. Without those players, Tulsa had no choice but to rebuild around younger talent.
In many ways, though, Richardson might have been better off starting from scratch with a fresh roster because of the unique demands of his frenetic style of up-tempo, pressure basketball. The style did not agree with Braxton and Pierson, while Zellous got off to a poor start to the season before being traded.
At the same time, Tulsa has missed the departed players. With them in the lineup, the Shock got off to a good start, winning three of its first six games, before going into a deep tailspin. Tulsa lost 12 consecutive games during a losing streak that spanned six weeks before finally snapping the streak last Friday in San Antonio. Playing against lesser competition, the Shock was competitive in its next two losses before being blitzed by Phoenix at the BOK Center Thursday night in a 123-91 loss that saw the Mercury set a WNBA scoring record. (It's safe to say that Phoenix is not a good matchup for Tulsa, having averaged 111.5 points in four head-to-head wins thus far.)
Richardson's defense has enjoyed success in turning opponents over, ranking second in the league in steal percentage. However, when teams have been able to beat the press, they've found wide-open shots in the half-court offense - especially beyond the arc. Shock opponents are shooting a robust 40.1 percent from three-point range, which would be the worst mark in WNBA history.
The Storm saw both the good and the bad of the Tulsa defense within the same game on June 27 at the BOK Center. Playing largely without Sue Bird, who left with a lower back injury in the game's early stages, the Storm committed 16 turnovers in the first half alone. When the team's ballhandling settled down after halftime, however, the Storm was able to shoot 53.1 percent from the field, including 8-of-14 from downtown.
That game experience against the Shock should help the Storm prepare for Sunday's rematch at KeyArena. Tulsa's style is so unlike that of any other WNBA team that it is difficult to get a feel for it from video. Many Storm players did see action against the Shock in a preseason game played in Tulsa, but Richardson was saving something for the regular season and limited the use of pressure in that game.
At the other end of the floor, the biggest issue for the Shock has been the lack of a go-to scorer. The team's leading scorer, guard Scholanda Robinson, is really more of a defensive specialist who has been productive but not highly efficient in the new role. The only other Tulsa player averaging double-figures is newcomer Ivory Latta, who has started four of six games since being signed and is averaging 10.3 points. The upside is the Shock has several players who can take the lead on any given night, but when the shot clock is running out Tulsa lacks a reliable, consistent option.
For the Storm, the confines of KeyArena will be an unfamiliar but welcome sight. The Storm last played at home on July 6, more than two and a half weeks ago. In between were the break for The Stars at the Sun as well as a three-game road trip that saw the Storm go 3-0 to extend the longest winning streak in franchise history to 10 games.
|Richardson's style and the Shock's lack of star talent means plenty of minutes for a large rotation. With Alexis Hornbuckle sidelined by an ankle injury, that rotation has included Marion Jones, who has proven far more than a curiosity as a 34-year-old rookie. Twice this month, Jones has scored double-figures, and she pulled down five rebounds on Thursday. Jones' athleticism has made her an impact defender, and she's shaken off the rust at the other end of the floor. Storm sixth woman Svetlana Abrosimova stepped into a larger role at Tulsa because of Bird's injury and responded with a season-high 21 points, including five three-pointers.|
Trailing the Shock by double-digits on the road without Bird after a long day of travel, the Storm never lost faith. Taking better care of the basketball and tightening things up on defense, the Storm rallied within five after three quarters then dominated the last 10 minutes of an 83-72 win on June 27. The Storm outscored Tulsa 26-10 in the fourth period, including a 21-0 run at one point that took the team from down five to up 16 at the two-minute mark. The Storm overcame a season-high 25 turnovers by forcing 20 from a young Shock squad and shooting 8-of-14 beyond the arc after halftime.
Lauren Jackson led the Storm with 24 points, knocking down three three-pointers. Meanwhile, Abrosimova and Tanisha Wright teamed up to fill in for the irreplaceable Bird, who left two minutes into the game with a sore lower back and will be reevaluated Monday. Abrosimova stepped in for Bird in the lineup and scored 19 of her season-high 21 points after halftime. Wright moved to the point and matched her career high with 10 assists for the second consecutive game. Wright added 10 points for her first career double-double. Reserve Jana Veselá also played a key role in the comeback. The Storm outscored the Shock by 20 points during Veselá's 11 minutes of action.
Storm - None.
Tulsa - Guard Alexis Hornbuckle (right ankle) is out.