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Insider Preview - Storm at Los Angeles

HEAD-TO-HEAD
17-12 RECORD 12-17
W-4 STREAK L-2
4-1 LAST 5 2-3
71.0 PF 77.8
97.5 Off. Eff. 103.4
70.2 PA 81.2
96.5 Def. Eff. 107.1
31.4 RPG 32.2
.496 Reb % .475
72.8 Pace 74.2
15.3 Exp. Wins 11.2

Storm (17-12) at Los Angeles (12-17)
Tuesday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m.
STAPLES Center
TV: KONG 6/16
Radio: 1090 AM
LiveAccess: Live video.

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com


When the Seattle Storm visits the STAPLES Center tonight, the question is which Los Angeles Sparks team will be on the other end of the court. The inconsistent Sparks have had at least two personalities since Candace Parker returned to the lineup earlier this month.

There's the lax defensive team with unpredictable substitution patterns that struggled to put the Tulsa Shock and Washington Mystics away on the road before suffering a costly upset loss to Tulsa at home. Then there's the focused group that rides Candace Parker to success. That group knocked off the Indiana Fever in Parker's second game back.

Even within Sunday's meeting between these two teams at KeyArena, L.A.'s two personalities were evident. The Storm controlled the first half as Parker was silenced by tough defense and foul trouble, sitting out much of the second quarter while her teammates repeatedly threw the ball away.

But the second half belonged to the Sparks as Joe Bryant relied on his starters, playing Parker, Ticha Penicheiro and Kristi Toliver the full 20 minutes. Parker responded with 15 points and eight boards in the second half alone and the team clamped down on defense, holding the Storm to 28.6 percent shooting.

Los Angeles, which enters tonight a game and a half behind the San Antonio Silver Stars for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, can still make a run at the postseason by maintaining that level of execution over the last five games of the season.

"We played good," said Bryant. "To come in here and hold them to 65 points in their own place says a lot about our defense. We executed some good plays down the stretch in the second half and got some good looks at the basket. If we play this way for the next five games, we should be OK."

The in-game adjustments both teams made on Sunday provide a hint of what is in store for tonight's rematch. The Storm did a much better job in the second half of running the Sparks off the three-point line. The team also came up with seven offensive rebounds after having none in the first half, which was surprising against one of the league's weakest rebounding teams.

"We talked about three-point shooting at halftime, that we needed to eliminate that," Agler said after the game. "We got to them, but they also had some looks and missed. We didn't talk about the offensive boards, but we did a better job in the second half, obviously, because we didn't have any at halftime. We've got to turn around and play them again. It will be a lot of preparation, but it will be a review in a lot of ways."

For Los Angeles, a key difference was running the offense through Parker and Toliver. More post touches created better looks for Parker, who settled for early shots in the first half. She made five of her seven shot attempts after halftime and also got to the free throw line five times. Toliver supplied the perimeter punch, coming off of screens and creating her own shot. She scored nine points in the second half alone.

Parker's rebounding also made a crucial difference for the Sparks. She grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds and was a big reason why Los Angeles outrebounded the Storm, the first time the team has held a rebounding advantage since Parker returned to the lineup.

On the Storm side, the most positive statistic was the team committing a season-low eight turnovers. As Nate Parham noted on Swish Appeal, the Storm has been taking better care of the basketball since Lauren Jackson's return to the lineup. Given that Jackson annually ranks among league leaders in turnover rate, this is no surprise. Taking care of the basketball figures to be even more important for the Storm as the team returns to the road after sweeping a four-game homestand.

KEY MATCHUP
When two of the WNBA's Top 15 Players of All Time match up, it's rare for Penicheiro to outscore Sue Bird. That's what happened on Sunday, as an aggressive-minded Penicheiro scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. By serving as a scoring threat, Penicheiro makes defenses pay her more attention, opening things up for her teammates. Bird scored half of her 12 points at the free throw line on a night where she shot 2-of-12 from the field. Bird had some good looks that did not fall, but ended up making the big play to win the game for the Storm in the closing seconds.
LAST TIME

After building a lead as large as 11 points Sunday at KeyArena, the Storm saw the Sparks control most of the fourth quarter, rallying from down eight with six minutes left to tie the game. L.A. couldn't account for Bird. When the Storm's final play broke down and Tanisha Wright's shot was blocked, Bird recovered about 30 feet away from the basket and drew Toliver to her with a pump fake. Bird did a good job of selling contact and then stepped to the free throw line with 1.6 seconds left and calmly knocked down two attempts. Tina Thompson had a chance to win it for L.A. at the buzzer, but her three-pointer bounced harmlessly off the front rim.

Bird was one of four Storm starters to score double figures. The fifth player, Swin Cash, had nine points and tied for the team high with seven rebounds. The Storm also held a potent L.A. offense to 40.7 percent shooting and 1-of-9 from downtown in the second half.

INJURIES

Storm - Center Lauren Jackson (recovery from hip surgery) is probable.

Los Angeles - None.

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