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Insider Preview: Storm at San Antonio

HEAD-TO-HEAD
1-5 RECORD 2-3
L-2 STREAK L-1
1-4 LAST 5 2-3
67.8 PF 78.8
88.2 Off. Eff. 101.2
31.2 RPG 32.8
.464 Reb % .496
73.9 Pace 77.8
1.7 Exp. Wins 2.7

Storm at San Antonio
Saturday, June 9, 5:00 p.m.
AT&T Center
Radio: 1090 AM
Live Access: Available with subscription

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com


The 2011 San Antonio Silver Stars accomplished two impressive feats. The Silver Stars kept alive their streak of playoff appearances, which now stands at five consecutive dating back to 2007, the third-longest in the WNBA after the Storm (eight in a row) and the Indiana Fever (seven). Then San Antonio became the only team to defeat the Minnesota Lynx in the postseason. In fact, the Silver Stars gave the Lynx their toughest test en route to the title. They lost Game 1 by one point on a turnover in the closing seconds before eventually falling in a blowout during the deciding Game 3.

From a big-picture perspective, an impressive crop of San Antonio rookies injected youth and athleticism into a franchise that had aged rapidly since reaching the 2008 WNBA Finals. First-round pick Danielle Robinson was one of two unanimous choices for the All-Rookie Team after cracking the starting lineup late in the regular season and averaging 8.2 points and 3.9 assists per game. Second-round pick Danielle Adams was the steal of the draft, earning All-Star honors after averaging 12.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Midseason knee surgery kept Adams from challenging Maya Moore for Rookie of the Year, but she too was chosen for the All-Rookie Team.

Adams and Robinson make up half of a core of young, talented Silver Stars. There's also center Jayne Appel, the team's 2010 first-round pick who has expanded her role after Ruth Riley signed in Chicago as a free agent, giving San Antonio more presence in the paint and on the glass. The Silver Stars also added top prospect Shenise Johnson when the Miami wing, considered a likely top-three pick, slipped slightly to No. 5 in this year's WNBA Draft. The multitalented Johnson is averaging 19.0 minutes per game.

Of course, San Antonio is still led by its veteran inside-outside duo of Becky Hammon and Sophia Young. Hammon is off to a terrific start to the season, having knocked down 15 three-pointers in 28 attempts over the Silver Stars' first five games. Hammon's average of 17.2 points per game is second to L.A.'s Kristi Toliver among point guards, but she doesn't neglect her playmaking duties - Hammon also ranks third in the WNBA with 5.4 assists per game, just behind Storm counterpart Sue Bird (5.8 apg). Bird and Hammon will also square off in this summer's Olympics, as Hammon again represents Russia.

Young, who leads all San Antonio players by averaging 32.8 minutes per game, has started well on the glass. She's averaging 8.4 rebounds per game, which would be a career high and an increase of two rebounds per game over 2011 in similar minutes. As Young has spent more time on the perimeter, her rebounding has declined, and the Silver Stars have struggled on the glass as a team. Last year, San Antonio was last in the league in rebounding. Like this year's Storm, the Silver Stars were solid on the defensive boards (they actually ranked third in the league in defensive rebound percentage) but came up with far fewer second chances than anyone else in the WNBA. This year, San Antonio is closer to average on the offensive boards and overall, in large part because of Young's effort.

The Silver Stars fill out their eight-woman rotation with high-scoring sixth woman Jia Perkins and newcomer Shameka Christon. All eight players have started a game and average at least 17 minutes, and six contribute at least 8.0 points per game. Perkins, who averaged 12.1 points in 2011 largely in a reserve role, has struggled with her shot this year (30.6 percent from the field and 4-of-19 from beyond the arc) but is likely to return to form in time. Christon, who is healthy again after injuries cost her the last season and a half, has evolved into a three-point specialist. 28 of her 36 shot attempts have come from beyond the arc, where she's making 28.6 percent of her attempts.

Another barometer of San Antonio's balance is the team's ball movement. Led by Hammon and Robinson (4.0 apg), the Silver Stars hand out assists on 61.7 percent of their field goals, which ranks second in the WNBA behind the Storm (63.7 percent). In both cases, that passing often leads to open looks beyond the arc. The Storm and San Antonio also rank 1-2 in the percentage of their shot attempts from three-point range.

Despite this being the third game of a five-game road trip, the Storm will actually spend more time in San Antonio beforehand than the Silver Stars. San Antonio plays Friday night at Atlanta before returning home to complete the back-to-back, while the Storm arrived in Texas on Thursday and has had two days to prepare for the game. The Storm is still looking for its first road win of the season, having last won away from KeyArena at the AT&T Center in the final away game of 2011.

KEY MATCHUP
While Hammon and Bird match up nominally, in practice they're unlikely to spend much if any time guarding each other with Robinson checking Bird and Tanisha Wright matching up with Hammon. Wright did a terrific job defensively on Hammon last season, holding her to just 10.3 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting as the Storm won the head-to-head series 4-1. At the other end, Wright made Hammon work on defense and took advantage of the smaller Silver Stars backcourt, scoring 14.4 points per game and making a robust 56.3 percent of her shots. After her best performance of the season Wednesday in Minnesota, Wright will look to maintain that momentum.
LAST MEETING

The Storm's final road game of the 2011 regular season also doubled as the team's biggest win of the year away from KeyArena by a 70-60 margin last Sept. 3 in San Antonio. The Storm led the Silver Stars nearly the entire second half and blew the game open by starting the fourth quarter with a 15-4 run to go up 14 points. Bird was everywhere during the run, either scoring or assisting on all five Storm field goals. She finished with a team-high 15 points and six assists while Lauren Jackson scored 13 points in 23 minutes, but it was Swin Cash who led the team's dominance on the glass with her first double-double of the year (14 points, 12 rebounds). Cash also reached 4,000 points in her WNBA career early in the third quarter.

With Cash supported by six players who grabbed at least four rebounds, the Storm nearly doubled up San Antonio on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 40-21. The Storm also continued its defensive dominance against the Silver Stars, who averaged just 60.6 points during five head-to-head matchups - four of them won by the Storm. Young had 22 for San Antonio and Hammon added 14, but Adams was held to one point on 0-of-7 shooting.

INJURIES

Storm - None.

San Antonio - Center Tangela Smith (arthroscopic surgery, left knee) is out.

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