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Insider Preview: Storm vs. Minnesota

HEAD-TO-HEAD
10-11 RECORD 17-4
L-1 STREAK W-4
3-2 LAST 5 4-1
70.4 PF 87.0
95.5 Off. Eff. 111.5
71.9 PA 78.0
97.7 Def. Eff. 95.4
30.4 RPG 37.2
.460 Reb % .522
73.2 Pace 79.0
9.4 Exp. Wins 19.3

Storm vs. Minnesota
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 7:00 p.m.
KeyArena
TV: ESPN2
Radio: 1090 AM
LiveAccess: None. Streams on ESPN3.com where available
Buy Tickets:

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com


With Sunday's win over the Tulsa Shock, the Minnesota Lynx became the first team in the WNBA this season to clinch a playoff berth. The Lynx did so after 21 games, matching the Storm's mark during the 2010 championship season. While the Storm locked up home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs shortly thereafter, Minnesota has a lot more work to do to claim the No. 1 overall seed.

When the Lynx started the season 10-0, they figured to cruise in the West. However, they stumbled early in July, losing three games in a row - two of them to West rivals Los Angeles and San Antonio. At the same time, the Silver Stars started surging. They've won 10 games in a row, putting them in a tie for second with the Sparks just a game and a half back of Minnesota for first place. The race is close enough that the three teams might not know their positions until the final week of the season.

Still, the Lynx deserve to be considered the favorite in the West. Their +12.7 point differential is far and away the best in the WNBA and would be consistent with a record more like 19-2 at this point in the season. Minnesota has built that margin by ranking atop the league in both offense and defense on a per-possession basis.

The USA's undefeated run to another gold medal in London served as further testament to the Lynx's talent. Three Minnesota players were part of the USA roster, more than from any other team. Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen all played key roles for the USA. To them, the Lynx add Rebekkah Brunson (who ranks fourth in the WNBA in rebounding) and veteran center Taj McWilliams-Franklin (playing some of her best basketball at age 41) for a balanced, deep starting five no opponent can match.

The Minnesota bench is healthier now than it has been in weeks. The Olympic Break allowed rookie forward Devereaux Peters to recover from a broken hand, while second-year center Jessica Adair rehabbed following June knee surgery. With them in the lineup, the Lynx go five deep in the frontcourt.

Minnesota also has an embarrassment of riches behind Augustus, Moore and Whalen on the perimeter. Guard Monica Wright has emerged as a leading contender for the Sixth Woman Award during her best season. Wright is averaging 9.5 points in just 20 minutes per game while shooting 49.0 percent from the field, a major improvement from her sub-40 percent shooting her first two years in the WNBA. Meanwhile, Candice Wiggins has supplied shooting off the bench, knocking down nearly two triples per game.

All of that makes the Lynx, currently riding a four-game winning streak, very difficult to beat. Difficult, but not impossible, as the Storm showed on June 17 at KeyArena, handing Minnesota its first loss. Of the 11 losses the Lynx have suffered the last two regular seasons, two have come against the Storm in Seattle, where Minnesota has won just once in its last 12 visits.

Hot outside shooting has been a common thread in the Lynx's four losses, with opponents making 43.0 percent of their three-point attempts as compared to 31.3 percent in Minnesota wins. On June 17, Sue Bird's 5-of-7 shooting beyond the arc keyed the Storm win. The Storm also had a strong performance beyond the arc on May 27 at Minnesota, tying franchise records with 14 makes and 34 attempts from three-point range, but shot just 18.2 percent (4-of-22) in a blowout loss at the Target Center on June 6.

With a win tonight in the final meeting between the teams in the regular season, the Storm could tie the season series at two games apiece. Tying or winning season series is a goal for the Storm, though Bird downplayed the significance on a possible playoff matchup. (If the season ended today, the Lynx would host the Storm in the opening round.)

"You never want a team to have one up on you, to win a series throughout a season," she said. "At this point a win would just be a win. If we did meet them, hopefully we could draw from it. For this coming game, we watched a lot of film of the game where we did have success against them to see what we did."

KEY MATCHUP
Moore followed up her gold medal by winning WNBA Player of the Week honors for the first four days of action after the Olympic Break. She averaged 19.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.0 steals in a pair of Lynx victories. In year two, the 2011 Rookie of the Year has boosted her numbers slightly across the board. Moore is most dangerous beyond the arc. She ranks third in the league in threes, just ahead of Wiggins, and is making them at a 42.9 percent clip. The Storm counters with a player who knows a thing or two about making threes in a Minnesota uniform and winning gold medals. Katie Smith remains 90 points ahead of Augustus as the all-time leading scorer in Lynx history.
LAST MEETING

Moore had a chance to tie from about 30 feet at the buzzer, but her desperation shot came up well short and the Storm held on for a 65-62 victory on June 17 to hand Minnesota its first loss of 2012. The Lynx's record-setting run to start the season ended at 10 games, and the loss also snapped a 13-game Minnesota winning streak dating back to the 2011 regular season.

To get the win, the Storm needed an incredible defensive effort. Minnesota managed just 62 points, 16 points fewer than the Lynx had netted in any other game this season. Minnesota's 37.5 percent shooting was also a season low. Tough defense allowed the Storm to win with just eight points in the fourth quarter. Before that, Bird supplied the scoring punch with 21 points on five three-pointers. Tanisha Wright ran the offense with 12 points and a season-high eight assists. Tina Thompson added 10 points and five rebounds off the bench, as well as the offensive rebound and free throws that helped put the game away.

INJURIES

Storm - Forward Tina Thompson (sprained left knee) is probable. Center Ann Wauters (strained left Achilles) is out.

Minnesota - None.

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