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Insider Preview: Storm at San Antonio

HEAD-TO-HEAD
13-16 RECORD 18-11
L-2 STREAK W-1
2-3 LAST 5 4-1
71.3 PF 82.0
96.7 Off. Eff. 107.2
72.2 PA 77.1
98.0 Def. Eff. 101.2
31.1 RPG 33.1
.470 Reb % .486
73.4 Pace 75.7
13.6 Exp. Wins 19.2

Storm at San Antonio
Friday, Sept. 14, 5:00 p.m.
AT&T Center
TV: NBA TV
Radio: 1090 AM
LiveAccess: Available with subscription

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com


The 2012 season for the San Antonio Silver Stars has been defined by streaks. First, a 12-game winning streak that wrapped around the Olympic Break vaulted San Antonio into contention in the Western Conference. More recently, the Silver Stars lost five games in a row, hurting their chances of claiming home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

San Antonio has clinched a sixth consecutive trip to the postseason, and a win tonight would assure the Silver Stars no worse than the third seed. Expectations got higher than that during the winning streak, which pushed San Antonio all the way from below .500 (4-5) to just a game and a half back of Minnesota for the best record in the WNBA. By surging at the same time the Silver Stars slipped, the Lynx pulled away and have clinched the top seed in the Western Conference.

Still, San Antonio has an outside chance of landing the No. 2 spot in the West. Though the Silver Stars trail Los Angeles by two games, the difference is just one in the loss column and San Antonio holds the head-to-head tie-breaker by virtue of winning the season series 3-1. So the Silver Stars could pass L.A. by winning out and having the Sparks lose one of their last three games. Los Angeles finishes the season vs. Minnesota next Thursday.

Whether San Antonio can take advantage of a Sparks stumble depends on the Silver Stars reaching a level closer to where they played during their winning streak, as compared to the recent losing streak. It's hard to overstate the difference in performance between the two stretches. Over the winning streak, San Antonio won by an average of 13.6 points per game. During the losing streak, the Silver Stars were outscored by 10.0 points per game.

About 15 percent of that difference can be explained by strength of schedule, which divides San Antonio's post-Olympic break trends in particular. All five games the Silver Stars have won since the break have come against teams headed to the lottery - three over the Tulsa Shock alone. Meanwhile, San Antonio has lost all five games it has played since the break against playoff-bound teams - all vs. the top two teams in the West and the East, including a pair of trips to Minnesota. The only game that did not fit the trend was a loss at Phoenix with Diana Taurasi in the lineup for the Mercury.

Even when we account for schedule, though, the Silver Stars have clearly been a different team lately. Their schedule-adjusted point differential during the winning streak was +12.5 points per game, which would make San Antonio the best team in the league over the course of the season. During the losing streak, the Silver Stars played 7.4 points per game worse than an average team.

While San Antonio has played differently at both ends of the court, a few factors stand out as key changes between the two streaks. Outside shooting is one. The Silver Stars shot 42.1 percent from beyond the arc during their winning streak, averaging more than eight three-pointers per game. That has dried up lately, with San Antonio making just 29.9 percent of its three attempts during the losing streak.

Another, as spotlighted recently on SwishAppeal.com by Nate Parham, is rebounding. Because the Silver Stars are a perimeter-oriented team with undersized posts, they will never be good on the glass. They merely need to hold their own to be successful. Such was the case during the winning streak, when San Antonio's rebound percentage was an even .500. During the losing streak, the Silver Stars' rebound rate dipped to 44.6 percent, which would be the league's lowest mark. Not only did offensive rebounds dry up, San Antonio struggled to keep opponents off the defensive glass.

Those rebounding difficulties are shared with the Storm, which was beaten badly on the glass during back-to-back losses at Atlanta and Indiana on Tuesday and Wednesday. As a result, matchups between the Storm and the Silver Stars have generally come down to which team shoots the ball more accurately. San Antonio won the first meeting of the season at the AT&T Center before the Storm evened the score at KeyArena in the Silver Stars' last loss before embarking on their winning streak. It's been almost three months since the teams played, and they will have two games in eight days to close the season series.

The Storm's lineup was limited by injuries on Wednesday, when starting guards Sue Bird (precautionary) and Tanisha Wright (strained groin) sat out. They could be joined tonight by Lauren Jackson, who is nursing a strained hamstring.

"I doubt if Sue plays," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "Tanisha will be a game-time decision. Lauren will also be a game-time decision."

KEY MATCHUP
Without Bird and Wright, the Storm struggled against Indiana's pressure, tying a franchise record with 28 turnovers. If Bird and/or Wright don't play, San Antonio's defensive style, which creates relatively few steals, could be a better matchup. The Storm would definitely miss Wright's defense against Becky Hammon. The All-Defensive First Teamer has consistently held the Silver Stars' go-to player in check. Hammon has averaged just 9.5 points against the Storm this season, with 10 assists and seven turnovers. Hammon has struggled since representing Russia in the Olympics. She's averaged just 12.4 points after the Olympic Break, shooting 38.7 percent from the field.
LAST MEETING

Because of Jia Perkins' 20 points, the Silver Stars were able to keep things close into the final seconds on June 22, but the Storm never cracked in an 82-76 win. The team inbounded the basketball without mistakes and knocked down a series of free throws in the closing moments. Wright did most of the work at the charity stripe, making eight free throws in 10 attempts - both tying career highs. Wright's 20 points were a season high, and she added seven assists and five rebounds in a terrific all-around performance.

Beyond that, the Storm got offensive balance. All five starters and Tina Thompson scored double figures. Strong ball movement created open shots as San Antonio was unable to keep up defensively. The Storm defense was tight throughout the game, holding the Silver Stars to 35.1 percent shooting. Only 27 free throws and 9-of-15 three-point shooting kept San Antonio competitive on offense.

INJURIES

Storm - Guard Sue Bird (precautionary) is doubtful. Guard Tanisha Wright (strained groin) and center Lauren Jackson (strained hamstring) are questionable.

San Antonio - None.

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