Insider Preview: Storm vs. Phoenix
Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com
The Olympic Break meant different things to different WNBA teams. For the Seattle Storm, it was an opportunity for players to get a second training camp, young players to improve, veterans to rest and injured players get time to rehab. Head Coach Brian Agler likes where his team is at and is excited to resume the campaign tonight against Phoenix.
"I am anxious because we've had a good training camp here - a second training camp," said Agler. "Some of our people are really getting better. We're starting to get what I think is the right mentality for our team. I think some of our people were refreshed by getting a 10-day break. I'm looking forward to it."
In particular, Agler believes the time off has been helpful for the Storm's rookies and the international players who were able to get more practice time to understand the Storm's system.
"I think it's been really good for Svetlana (Abrosimova) and Ewa (Kobryn) just because Svetlana had no training camp and Ewa came in really late. Then I think Shekinna (Stricklen) and Alysha (Clark) are both steadily getting better all the time."
The Storm is also healthier than it was before the break. While center Ann Wauters is still sidelined by a strained left Achilles - she's out tonight, and day-to-day going forward - Agler expects to get forward Tina Thompson back from the sprained left knee that kept her out for the last three games before the break.
"We'll have some minutes from her," Agler said.
The month-long break was not nearly so helpful for the Mercury's health. Battered by injuries before the break, Phoenix has actually lost more players to injury. Over the past month, forwards Candice Dupree and Charde Houston both underwent arthroscopic surgery to resolve left knee injuries. Their timetable for recovery will keep them out at least another few weeks, and in both cases the surgeries could prove season-ending.
Making matters worse, backup guard Alexis Gray-Lawson - one of the five Mercury players who saw action in all 19 games before the break - suffered a sprained right ankle, so she's out too. Diana Taurasi, who played in just two games for Phoenix early in the season before returning to win a third gold medal with the USA in the Olympics, won't play tonight due to fatigue and jet lag. She remained in Arizona rather than traveling to Seattle with the team.
Add in forward Penny Taylor, out for the year with a torn ACL, and that leaves the Mercury down five players, including their three leading scorers from 2011 (Taurasi, Taylor and Dupree) and their third-leading scorer this year (Houston).
That means opportunity for other players. Phoenix qualified for a second injury exemption, allowing the team to add a 13th player to its roster - Arizona State product and local native Dymond Simon, who was with the team in training camp and returned on a seven-day contract. Simon is expected to make her WNBA debut tonight as a backup to starting point guard Samantha Prahalis.
The Mercury has already gotten good production from its other injury exemption, center Lynetta Kizer. Kizer had 14 points and five rebounds in the last game before the break, a win by the Storm in Phoenix. The Mercury has two other promising young post players in former Storm draft pick Krystal Thomas (averaging 7.7 points and 7.3 rebounds as a starter) and undrafted rookie Avery Warley, who has been one of the league's top rebounders.
For scoring, Phoenix relies heavily on forward DeWanna Bonner, whose average of 20.7 points per game ranks second in the WNBA. Now that Bonner is the first option on offense, teams like the Storm can key on her defensively.
"She's their go-to player right now," said Agler. "She's one of the leading scorers in the league and they run a lot of stuff for her. But they've got other good players too."
The Storm did a terrific job of containing Bonner in two matchups before the break. She scored 30 points, but shot 6-of-28 from the field against an aggressive Storm defense.
|Just five days after winning gold in London, Sue Bird will be back on the court for the Storm tonight. Bird got a full practice Wednesday after running through drills on Tuesday, and it won't take long for her to command the Storm offense given her experience. Bird matches up with Prahalis, one of Phoenix's most consistent presences during her rookie season. Prahalis is averaging 12.4 points and 4.7 assists. During two head-to-head meetings, the Storm has limited her to five assists and 6-of-22 shooting.|
Behind hot shooting from starters and energy provided by reserves, the Storm opened up a big lead in the third quarter and cruised to an 83-64 victory July 13 in Phoenix, completing the team's schedule prior to the Olympic Break. Katie Smith carried the Storm to an early lead with hot shooting. Smith was 5-of-5 from the field in the first quarter, including three triples, and the Storm led by as many as 13 points before the Mercury rallied to within four at the break. After halftime, the Storm put the game away by outscoring Phoenix 26-6 in the third quarter.
Smith finished with a game-high 19 points, tying her season high. Stricklen added 15 points and a career-high 11 rebounds for her first WNBA double-double. Fellow rookie Clark also supplied strong minutes off the bench, finishing with career highs of nine points and eight rebounds. Camille Little scored 15 and Bird handed out nine assists. Bonner led Phoenix with 18 points.
Storm - Forward Tina Thompson (left knee strain) is probable. Center Ann Wauters (strained left Achilles) is out.
Phoenix - Guards Alexis Gray-Lawson (sprained right ankle) and Diana Taurasi (jet lag) and forwards Candice Dupree (arthroscopic surgery, left knee), Charde Houston (arthroscopic surgery, left knee) and Penny Taylor (torn left ACL) are out.Comments blog comments powered by Disqus