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Insider Preview - Storm vs. Chicago

HEAD-TO-HEAD
21-2 RECORD 12-13
W-12 STREAK L-1
5-0 LAST 5 3-2
83.5 PF 75.2
111.0 Off. Eff. 102.1
73.9 PA 73.8
97.8 Def. Eff. 99.8
36.7 RPG 30.7
.552 Reb % .482
73.7 Pace 73.0
18.8 Exp. Wins 13.7

Storm (21-2) vs. Chicago (12-13)
Friday, July 30, 7:00 p.m.
KeyArena
TV: KONG 6/16
Radio: 1150 AM KKNW
LiveAccess: Live Video
Buy Tickets:
Promotion: Women of Inspiration Night

Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com


As of right now, the Seattle Storm is currently riding a winning streak against every WNBA opponent save one - the Chicago Sky. The Sky is one of just two teams to defeat the Storm this season, and the Storm was able to even the series with the other (the Indiana Fever) the following week at KeyArena. That leaves the Storm having defeated every team in the league save Connecticut (the teams haven't met this season, though the Storm won the last meeting in 2009) and Chicago, which also swept the season series last year.

"They're a tough matchup for us," Storm Head Coach Brian Agler said after yesterday's practice, adding that he had his theories as to why the Storm had struggled with the Sky but didn't wish to make them public before the game.

One reason is obvious - Sylvia Fowles, one of the toughest matchups in the league. Fowles is especially problematic for the Storm when Lauren Jackson is off the floor because the Storm has only one other player who can come even close to matching Fowles' size, reserve Ashley Robinson. Agler also cited Chicago's physical play and preference to work in the paint. Even guards Jia Perkins and Epiphanny Prince are better on the drive.

At the same time, the rematch between the two teams tonight is likely to be very different from the Sky's win at the Allstate Arena on May 27, let alone last year's matchups. From the Storm's perspective, the first loss of the season grabbed the focus of a team that had been inconsistent in starting the season 4-0. The Storm responded with a blowout win three days later at San Antonio and haven't looked back since.

On the other side, Chicago has made some major changes since May. Most notably, forward Shameka Christon has not played since suffering an orbital fracture on June 11. The loss of Christon, the marquee return from the Sky's trade sending Candice Dupree to Phoenix, has forced some adjustments. Tamera Young has replaced Christon in the starting lineup, splitting time with sharpshooter Erin Thorn. More recently, Chicago signed Shay Murphy (late of the Indiana Fever) and put her in the rotation at small forward. Murphy scored 12 points off the bench against her former team on Tuesday.

The Sky has also made a chance at power forward, where Mistie Bass has replaced Lake Washington High School product Cathrine Kraayeveld in the lineup. Kraayeveld has struggled from beyond the arc, making just 29.9 percent of her three-point attempts, and Bass provides superior defense and rebounding from the position.

The backcourt has also been in some flux. Veterans Perkins and Dominique Canty remain the starters, but Perkins - an All-Star a year ago - has also had a down season, seeing her scoring average tumble from 13.2 points per game to 10.5. Rookie Epiphanny Prince has helped pick up the slack with her ability to create offense. Prince is averaging 9.0 points and 2.4 assists per game and has been the second most valuable rookie this season after Connecticut's Tina Charles.

It was at the defensive end where Chicago really shined against the Storm in the win, holding the team to 39.4 percent shooting. The Storm's starting backcourt of Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright was a combined 4-of-15 from the field, scoring 10 points. The Sky's solid defense is anchored by Fowles, who leads the WNBA with 2.7 blocks per game.

Chicago's May win might provide the Storm some extra motivation tonight.

"That first Chicago game was a long time ago, so I don't think any of us thought about it that much," said Bird. "But now that it's approaching, we get to see it, relive and it's fresh in our minds right now. Hopefully that will help us."

KEY MATCHUP
Fowles actually wasn't a huge factor in last year's Sky wins over the Storm, totaling just 16 points in the two games, one of which saw her coming back from an injury. Her mere presence was helpful, however. Last season, Chicago was 15-9 when Fowles played and 1-9 when she sat out. Fowles has become a much bigger factor on offense with Dupree's departure and had 19 points and eight boards, not to mention four blocks, against the Storm in May. Fowles also limited Jackson, who picked up five fouls and finished with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting. If Jackson is hitting from the perimeter tonight, it will help her pull Fowles away from the basket.

LAST TIME

This time around, the Storm's comeback effort began too late. Trailing the Sky by 17 after three quarters and 19 midway through the fourth, the Storm finally found some momentum with its second unit in the game. Svetlana Abrosimova caught fire, scoring nine points as part of a 14-3 run to get the Storm within six points. Seattle would get as close as five in the final 30 seconds, but Thorn knocked down four free throws to help salt the game away and knock the Storm from the ranks of the unbeaten. Chicago earned its first win of the season.

The first three quarters saw the Storm struggle at both ends of the floor. The team scored just one field goal in the last 5:17 of the first half as the Sky opened up a double-digit lead with a 13-2 run. At the other end of the floor, Chicago shot 49.1 percent from the field and was also accurate from downtown (6-of-13) and the free throw line (22-of-23). The Storm was largely able to stay close thanks to offensive rebounding, grabbing 20 of the team's own misses.

Jackson led the Storm with 15 points and 11 rebounds but dealt with foul trouble trying to defend Fowles, who posted 19 points, eight boards and four blocks for the Sky. Abrosimova had 13 off the bench in her highest-scoring game in a Storm uniform, while Le'coe Willingham contributed eight points and four rebound.

INJURIES

Storm - None.

Chicago - Forward Shameka Christon (broken orbital bone) is out.