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Insider Preview - Storm vs. Los Angeles

HEAD-TO-HEAD
27-6 RECORD 13-22
W-2 STREAK W-1
3-2 LAST 5 3-2
82.0 PF 78.0
108.9 Off. Eff. 101.7
73.8 PA 81.4
97.9 Def. Eff. 105.6
36.4 RPG 30.9
.545 Reb % .463
74.2 Pace 76.6
25.3 Exp. Wins 12.8

Storm (27-6) vs. Los Angeles (13-20)
Saturday, Aug. 17, 8:00 p.m.
KeyArena
TV: ESPN2
Radio: 1150 AM KKNW
Buy Tickets:
Promotion: Fan Appreciation Night. The first 3,000 fans receive "I Am Home Court Advantage" T-shirts.

Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com


When last we visited with the Los Angeles Sparks, it was hard to envision the Sparks making a playoff run. Having slumped since losing Candace Parker to season-ending surgery to repair her left shoulder labrum, a loss to the Storm on July 3 left Los Angeles with a 4-12 record and little momentum toward a run.

The Sparks have rallied during the second half of the season, however, taking advantage of the fact that the rest of the Western Conference hardly pulled away when Los Angeles was struggling. Back-to-back road wins at Connecticut and Minnesota late last month seemed to jumpstart the Sparks, and they have actually posted the West's best record during the month of August at 5-3 (the Storm, having rested starters at times during the month, is 5-4).

Los Angeles got a crucial win last Thursday in Minnesota, when Tina Thompson beat both the buzzer and the Lynx with a last-second jumper in a 78-77 victory. That win set the Sparks up with a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win in last night's rematch at the Staples Center. Minnesota led much of the way, but a 12-2 fourth-quarter run gave Los Angeles the lead for good. The Sparks ended up scoring 34 points in the final period.

While Los Angeles will definitely be in the postseason when it kicks off next week, what remains to be determined is which seed the Sparks will hold. San Antonio holds the head-to-head tie-breaker between the two teams, so the Silver Stars go into the last two days of the season as the No. 3 seed. A win tonight at KeyArena would help Los Angeles' chances of finishing ahead of San Antonio, though the Sparks could still finish third with a loss because of the possibility of a three-way tie involving the Lynx. In that scenario, Los Angeles would be third and the Silver Stars fourth.

Even if Sparks Head Coach Jennifer Gillom had a reason to rest her starters in the season finale, it would be difficult to do so. Los Angeles has been playing with a nine-woman roster because of injuries to Parker and guard Betty Lennox, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on her left knee in late June. Lennox has yet to return to the lineup.

Gillom has generally been using a seven-player rotation, though rookie guard Andrea Riley has earned more minutes recently. Last night, she made heavy use of her starters. Guard Kristi Toliver was the only reserve to play more than six minutes and forward DeLisha Milton-Jones went the full 40.

As both teams complete a back-to-back set, the Storm is in better shape in terms of rest. Anticipating using a regular rotation in tonight's game, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler cut down on the minutes for his starters. No Storm player saw more than 26 minutes of action. A mix of starters and reserves was able to hold off the Mercury bench down the stretch as the Storm won 78-73 in Phoenix, moving to 27-6 on the season.

With last night's victory, the Storm has a chance the make some league history with a win tonight. A victory would be the Storm's 28th of the season, tying the most wins by any WNBA team. The Sparks will be defending their own record. In both 2000 and 2001, Los Angeles went 28-4. With the retirement of Lisa Leslie, Milton-Jones is the only player left from those Sparks teams. In 2001, L.A. also set a record by finishing the season undefeated at home. A Storm win would match that accomplishment and actually do it one better. The Sparks went 16-0 at the Staples Center, while the Storm has a chance to finish 17-0 at KeyArena during the regular season thanks to the extended schedule.

KEY MATCHUP
The WNBA's all-time leading assisters square off at the point. After the Sacramento Monarchs folded, Ticha Penicheiro signed with Los Angeles as a free agent and has played some of her best basketball. Her average of 6.8 assists per game is her best since 2002 and will allow her to supplant Sue Bird as the WNBA's assist leader. After being atop the league early in the season, Bird has slipped to third at 5.7 assists per game. She would need two more assists tonight than Lindsay Whalen has tomorrow in the Lynx's season finale to finish second. Penicheiro (3.07) and Bird (3.02) are one-two in assist-to-turnover ratio. For Bird, that's by far the best assist-to-turnover ratio of her career.

LAST TIME

A fast start held up for the Storm on July 3 in a 75-62 win over Los Angeles at the Staples Center in front of a national television audience on ESPN2. The Storm scored the game's first 13 points and took a 27-16 lead after one quarter behind 16 points from Lauren Jackson. By switching into a zone, the Sparks slowed down the Storm attack, and they got within three early in the fourth quarter. The Storm responded with back-to-back three-pointers to kick off a 10-0 game that put the game away.

Jackson finished with 20 points and eight rebounds despite suffering what was later revealed to be a concussion, while Swin Cash scored 18 points. Bird returned after missing a game with back spasms to score 11 points and hand out seven assists. All three players knocked down three shots from downtown as the Storm made a season-high 11 triples as a team. Toliver led Los Angeles with 18 points.

INJURIES

Storm - None.

Los Angeles - Guard Betty Lennox (arthroscopic surgery, left knee) and forward Candace Parker (surgery, left shoulder labrum) are out.