Wednesday, August 31, 2005
I am rather limited in my ability to look at last night's remarkable road win for the Storm in Houston. Somehow my blasted DVR avoided recording the game despite my programming of it to do so. I was unable to identify a scheduling confilct on the Comcast provided, Microsoft driven device, but it is still new to me and I haven't figured out how to find out what the problem was. I miss my DirecTV tivo. I was taking care of my kids and watching my recorded Liberty/Fever game while I got them fed and ready for bed, so I didn't double check to see that the game was recording as expected. I discovered the problem at halftime when my wife came home and took over the kids. I ended up recording the 2nd half and watching the game in real time. I will have a chance to watch the game this afternoon, since NBA TV is running a replay at 1:00 PM PDT. I have set the DVR to record this and the two playoff games this evening. You better believe that I will be double checking EVERY recording.
Here are my thoughts on what I did see.
The Comets made an expected second half push against the first half lead established primarily on the strained/sprained back of Lauren Jackson. Swoopes promptly broke out of her shooting slump and began to hit everything she put up no matter who was guarding her. No one could stop Michelle Snow down low, and she began racking up fouls on JB and Suzy.
The Storm fought back on the strong play of Sue Bird and Betty Lennox. The Comet's run was driven defensively by their zone causing Seattle players to put up too many bad three point shots. Izzy helped break the Storm out of this funk by finding a seam in the zone and hitting a nice midrange jumper. Sue missed her midrange jumper earned by a GREAT pump fake.
Betty began driving into the heart of the Comet defense for layups and fouls. One foul in particular benefitted the Storm when the refs gave Betty two shots she probably didn't deserve. The ref said that she had "gathered" the ball for the shot, however her back was to the basket and the ball never left her hands. It should have been a foul on the floor. This put the Storm in the penalty and Betty took advantage of that by driving the lane every chance she got. She was golden from the line, missing one shot all night.
Sue had two great plays, both off high screens. On one play she pulled up suddenly for a three as soon as her defender left her to defend LJ on her roll to the basket. On the other play she drove away from the screen (for the first time all night) when the defense ran under it, then stopped and popped for a short jumper just below the free throw line when her defender tried to play the pass.
LJ started off the half strong with a long range jumper, and grabbed every rebound on the floor for a few minutes. The double and triple teams, combined with her sore back, finally slowed her down, and she played a more passive role for the remainder of the game. She still managed 19 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and 46% shooting even with her strained/sprained back.
Overall the 2nd half looked like the game I expected. Two things surprised me, though, one pleasantly, and the other not so pleasantly. The Storm managed to control the ball remarkably well, suffering only 12 turnovers. I am not sure whether that was a lack of first half defense by the Comets, or just solid ball handling by the Storm. They only managed to force 9 turnovers on the Comets, but they only average 12 a game, so it is not a big concern. I was very disappointed that JB's foul trouble so severely impacted her ability to contribute. I expected more offense and defense from her, but Snow ate her alive last night. I wonder if worries over friends and damages to her new home in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina were a bigger distraction? I will have to see when I am able to watch the first half later today. I am sure that the thoughts of Storm fans go out to JB and her family in the wake of this disaster.
What does all this mean for the Storm?
Winning a playoff game on the road against a team the caliber of the Comets is huge for the Storm with regard to their confidence. The franchise has only won one road playoff game ever, and has struggled greatly on the road during the past two seasons. (I know they have struggled longer than that, but it has been their big weakness in these past two winning seasons.) I think this could be a catalyst for their post season run much like winning the game against Minnesota without Sue Bird was a catlayst last year. The Storm's 20-14 record only beats the records of LA, Detroit and NY, meaning they will most likely not have home court if they drive all the way to the finals this year. They will need that confidence to defend their title.
It is not likely that the Comets will win in Key Arena on Thursday night. They may have a chance if, for some reason, LJ is unable to play. I do not believe that they have ANY chance of winning two games in Key Arena. The fans will be insane, and the players will fired up. When the Storm play their game, they win. They need to close up the series tomorrow and give LJ's back an extra two days of rest and treatment. Besides, it will save us money on playoff tickets!
There are two interesting games on this evening. Two underdog, former champions take on the conference leaders in their own arenas. There is real potential in both series for an upset to take place as it did last year in the west. Both teams really need wins on their home courts tonight if they hop to achieve those upsets.
Detroit has owned the Sun this season, stepping up their game whenever they face the defending conference champions and earning a 3-1 lead in the season series. They play with a focus and effort that has been lacking during most of their games this season and leaving them as the only team in the playoffs with a losing record for the season. They have one of the better post defenses in the league, and two of its best shooters. The Sun, however, are on a roll to end the season, and have the tallest player in the league in Margo Dydek. They really feel they should have won game 2 of the finals last year (we know better), and are confident they will win the championship this year.
LA has struggled through injuries and coaching difficulties all season. Their current coach is the father of the arrogant star of LA's premier NBA franchise, and has no experience coaching women's basketball. While Michael Cooper and Bill Lambier turned out to be excellent coaches who really learned the players and the style of the WNBA, there has been little other success with these former NBA players being thrown into roles where there are better candidates available. They do have two of the best post players in the game, championship experience and are slowly coming back from injury. Nikki Teasley should be available off the bench. Combine this with the lack of Sacramento's leading scorer, DeMya Walker, and the injury to their sixth "man," Kara Lawson, and you have the recipe for an upset. This is a game Storm fans should be watching closely.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
We have two games to watch on ESPN2 today. While one is clearly more important to fans of the Seattle Storm than the other, both should be of interest.
The first airs at 4:30 PT and will feature former Storm and Aussie spark Tully Bevilaqua and her Indiana Fever as the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, taking on the depleted New York Liberty and their All Star Becky Hammon. We will all be cheering for Tully in this series I am sure. She has handled herself admirably in Indiana this past season, putting up career best numbers in points and steals. I think her real contribution to this team, though, is her championship experience and her tenacious team defense.
The real game we Storm fans are concerned with immediately follows the Fever/Liberty matchup when the Seattle Storm take on the dangerous Houston Comets at 6:30PM PDT in Houston.
I talked yesterday about the team matchups...so today I will take a look at the individual matchups...
MVP Head to Head
They have been the top two candidates for the MVP award all season long. The votes may be in, but expect these two to continue their battle in this post season series. They play different positions, but they are the key to the success of their teams, and as important as the other players on the floor will be, the series may swing with the performance of either Seattle's Lauren Jackson or Houston's Sheryl Swoopes.
Sue Bird vs. Janeth Arcain/Dawn Staley
Sue comes into the post season after winning her first 2005 Player of the Week award, and her first WNBA assist leader title. She has overcome her second broken nose in two years and adjusted to the new mask she wears to protect her nose and her previously fractured cheek bone. According to coach Anne Donnovan Sue, along with leading scorer and rebounder Lauren Jackson, has stepped up her leadership role on the team with the exit of veteran leaders Kamilla Vodichkva and Sheri Sam from last years title winning team. She has been credited this season with improving her individual defense, even within the more team oriented defense implemented by coach Anne Donnovan. Despite ranking fourth in the league for Assist to Turnover Ratio, she has struggled at times throughout the season with turnovers, particularly against veteran guards. Janeth Arcain's value to the Houston Comets was demonstrated quite clearly last season when they missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history while Janeth sat out the WNBA season to fulfill her commitment to the Brazillian olympic team. She knows coach Van Chancellor's offense and the capabilities of her teamates so well that her reduced production this year is more than offset. Combined with the brilliance of Dawn Staley, this makes a potent combination. Staley's numbers have suffered as the late season trade to Houston has transitioned her to a bench role. Van Chancellor runs the same plays in Houston that Staley executed for him on the US Olympic team, and she is very familiar with the play of Houston's two stars. Against the Storm, however, these advantages are not of as much value. Anne Donnovan was Chancellor's assistant on the Olympic team, and Sue Bird was Staley's backup. In Staley's play for Houston against the Storm this year Sue was calling defensive sets for every offensive set Staley indicated. Sue's combination of experience, speed and shooting ability give her the edge over the veteran savvy of Houston's point guards.
Betty Lennox vs. Dominique Canty
Betty is suffering from tendinitis in her right wrist and recovering from a ligament injury in her left wrist. Her six game rest at the end of the season, however, has allowed her a freshness she did not have when she won the 2004 Finals MVP award. She has put up strong numbers off the bench and in Saturday's return to the starting lineup, and more importantly has put up those numbers at the right times. She has injected passion, fire and energy into the Storm offense when it has started to sag, and hit her rhythm down the stretch. She and Sue Bird dominated the end of the game vs. the Mercury on Saturday with Lauren Jackson on the bench nursing a sore back. Canty has been solid, but unimpressive in her increased minutes with Houston this year. Expect Betty to dominate this matchup, forcing Houston to play Arcain at the two while Staley plays the point, to leverage the extra three inches of height Janeth brings to the defensive end of the floor.
Iziane Castro Marques vs Sheryl Swoopes
Despite Izzy's solid individual defense, expect MVP candidate Swoopes to dominate this matchup at both ends of the floor throughout the series. Swoopes has averaged 23.5 ppg against the Storm this year including her career high 34 in their last loss at Key Arena on August 9th. Izzy has managed 10 ppg in her three outings, having missed the first game in Houston after being suspended by the league for the game. Swoopes is also averaging 5 assists, 2.25 steals and 4.25 rebounds per game against Seattle. These numbers are all better than her season numbers, indicating she brings her best game when she takes on the Storm. Coach Dononvan has said that she will only alter the matchup if Sheryl gets hot. I will go farther and say that Anne WILL change the matchup because Sheryl WILL get hot.
Lauren Jackson vs. Tina Thompson
Despite the early attempt at melodramatic hype by ESPN's Nancy Lieberman, it is confirmed that not only will LJ play tonight, but she will be starting. In past years this has been a great matchup between two of the game's premier power forwards. This year, however, Tina has been slow to recover from the birth of her first child, only playing in the last 15 games of the season. She appeared to be returning to last year's form by the last few games, but even with a sore back LJ should be able to remind Tina who the best player in the world actually is, silver medal not withstanding. Tina may be finding her shooting touch, but she is still a step of two slow and will have trouble handling LJ on offense, and getting her shot off on defense.
Janell Burse vs. Michelle Snow
This is the one matchup where I disagree with Jayda Evans in her analysis for the Seattle Times. I believe that JB is the leagues Most Improved Player and will take advantage of Snow's help defense on LJ to put up solid numbers in this series. They have matched up pretty well this season.
It has been a very physical matchup with JB's numbers being adversely effected by her foul troubles. I expect the referees to allow more physical play under the basket in the playoffs, which should lead to more of an equal performance at the center position.
This is what will win the series for the Storm. The steady improvement of the bench particularly that of Tanisha Wright, will sway the series to the defending champions. Solid play from Suzy Batkovic will be required, as will consistent help from both Francesca Zara, Alicia Thompson and Simone Edwards. Tanisha and Suzy are the keys with the others merely needing to bridge the gaps and give the other seven players some rest in the rotation. Dawn Staley is the only real value on the bench for Houston who will have to play their starters significant minutes.
Van Chancellor is an icon in the WNBA and he led the Comets through their championship dynasty years. He continues to rely on the same plays, however, and the majority of the load falls squarely on the shoulders of his superstar player. Anne Donovan, in contrast, has demonstrated her coaching savvy and leadership skills becoming the first woman to win a WNBA championship and the first woman to 100 wins in the WNBA. She is already tagged to take over USA Basketball from Van and she took a team with two new starters, a new 6th "man" and more rookie minutes than any team in the WNBA this season to 20 wins, tying her championship team's 2004 record.
Monday, August 29, 2005
Round 1 Western Conference Playoffs
Game 1 Seattle @ Houston - Tues. Aug. 30 6:30PM PDT - ESPN2
Game 1 Sacramento @ LA - Wed. Aug. 31 7:30PM PDT - NBATV
Game 2 Houston @ Seattle - Thurs. Sept. 1 7:00PM PDT - NBATV
Game 2 LA @ Sacramento - Fri. Sept. 2 7:00PM PDT - NBATV
Game 3 Houston @ Seattle - Saturday, Sept. 3 7:00PM PDT - NBATV
Game 3 LA @ Sacramento - Sunday, Sept. 4 6:00PM PDT - NBATV
I expect these series to be a pair of roller coasters, both home and away.
Sparks vs. Monarchs
Nikki Teasley made the playoff roster but is not likely to be available for a first round series. Kara Lawson and DeMya Walker also made the playoff roster, but only Kara Lawson is expected to be available for the first round series. Guard play will be the key here. Both teams have strong post offense and defense, but Sacramento's vaunted perimeter defense will be the key to keeping LA from returning the underdog Round 1 elimination favor that Sacramento did for them last year. LA is guard weak with Teasley out and is averaging only 68.41 points per game this year and a mere 64.8 over the last ten games of the season. They failed to lock up their playoff position on their own, relying on Seattle to secure it for them. LA's post tandem of Chamique Holdsclaw and The DIVA Herself is a dangerous blend of offense and defense. Leslie, as much as she grates Seattle fans, is a solid post defender and rebounder, and brings championship experience and desire to the game. Yolanda Griffith however is showing that she can still dominate the post, and is by far the best rebounder in the game with her long arms. Brunson will be overmatched against Holdsclaw, and will have little help from the bench. Nicole Powell will be the key on offense with the guards setting the tone on defense. LA has a great opportunity to steal this series, but I predict the Monarchs take it in two games, a close match i Game 1 followed by a blowout victory at home in Sacramento.
Storm vs. Comets
There is a good reason why this game is on ESPN2. Both teams offer superstar lineups and bring scoring potential to the table.
The Storm have the highest scoring offense in the league this year, however they have allowed the most points of any team in the league as well. The good news is that their defense has stepped up at the end of the season.
|Season||Last 10||Last 5|
They have kept their offense flowing and pushed their defense up a notch as they have neared the postseason. Others have said this, and I agree. While other teams have peaked at various times during the season, the Storm are just starting to peak right now. Their +11.40 differential is the best in the league over the last 5 games with only the Sun coming close at +9.
The Comets have improved on their season numbers as well, but not to the same extent.
|Season||Last 10||Last 5|
The fact that the Storm differential is so high over the last 5 games is even more impressive when you look at their competition over that period. They played the Monarchs twice in that period, and the Monarchs lead the league in point differential for the season. Two of the other three teams were playoff bubble teams that were eliminated from the post season by their losses to Seattle. Only the San Antonio game was expected to have the high differential. The team with the best differential has one every WNBA championship, but I say that the Storm's season differential of 2.68 is misleading since they were still gelling early in the season, adding two starters and finding their key bench players. Those questions were all answered by the time they entered the home stretch, and the Storm have dominated since then. Also impressive is that the team leading scorer was only the leading scorer in 2 of those 5 games. LJ led in the first 2 games against Minnesota and Sacramento and Betty, Tanisha, JB and Sue leading the rest of the way.
I predict that the Storm take this series in 2 games, both closely contested and down to the wire with the Storm holding on for the wins. They have struggled in Houston, but their confidence is so high right now I think they will come out strong and break Houston's confidence early.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
The ring ceremony with Kamilla was as emotional as expected. The fans shared their love with a raucous standing ovation and cheers for the video clips of Kamilla scoring in a Storm jersey. It was great to see the hugs between her and the members of last years team, particularly her moments with Storm original Simone and her Russian teammate Sue Bird. It was not a moment you wanted to end...since we don't get another ring celebration, at least not until they win the championship this year! I found my sentimental eyes tearing up a couple of times throughout the presentation. It is amazing how this team really makes you feel a part of family...I cheered when Gary Payton came back for the first time to Key Arena, but I certainly didn't feel so touched.
The crowd cheered and applauded for quite a few of the Mercury players, including The game started off well for the Storm, with a solid run of defense leading to early Storm offense and forcing a quick timeout by former Storm assistant coach Carrie Graf. LJ starts the game off nice as well with an open three off a pick and roll with Sue. She grabs a few boards and scores a few more baskets and getting fouled. She looks assured another double double.
Kamilla's first basket elicits some polite applause, but that is it for our appreciation of our first Storm player. She and Taurasi put on a two woman show for the rest of the game. DeForge and Taylor are mostly non-factors, with Penny picking up her third foul midway through the first half. The score remains close, but the Storm hold a lead going into the half.
I miss the Dunking Usher halftime show as I have promised to let Eamon buy Connor a Doppler toy. Connor loves his new toy and walks around holding it in a suffocating bear hug the rest of the day.
LJ does not return from the locker room at the end of the half, and Suzy starts at PF for the Storm. LJ did not look hurt, and in fact does return to the bench. She is out for the rest of the game, breaking her current streak of double figure games and likely surrendering the MVP battle to Swoopes, as if that weren't already decided. I learn later that her sore lower back concerned AD enough to decide to rest her the remainder of the game.
When Phoenix makes its final run at the Storm Sue and Betty put an end to their hopes. Sue pulls up for a three when Diana sags off her, and Betty shoots a few jumpers and drives into the Phoenix defense for multiple fouls. Suzy is solid off the bench finding open shooters and scoring when she is open.
The classiest moment of the game comes when Diana Taurasi, who has just lit up the Storm defense all night long, calls the final play to give Kamilla an open three. What a selfless act, and what a treat for Seattle fans. One last chance to cheer our original franchise player. I think that, as much as her performance on the court, has earned her fans in this city, and even more volume from us during player introductions next year. I have heard lots of people complain about her behaviour on the court, but to me she just proved herself one of the true class acts in the game. Thank you Diana.
Tanisha proves that she CAN take her new found confidence to the bench and puts up a career high 17 points. She is impressive with a smooth jumper, drives to the basket for layups and fouls as well as her solid defense. Izzy has an unspectacular game but plays good defense on a number of key plays. Suzy provides an impressive line of 11 points, 2 steals, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Nice way to fill the box score, mate!
After the game we are treated to the news that Anne Donovan has signed a multi-year contract to remain with the Storm. She says that she can't imagine being anywhere else...lucky us!!! The players return some love to the fans, making their own signs, in their own languages to answer the signs from the fans all season. They all address the crowd and tell us that we are the best in the league. I am sure that every team tells that to their fans, but I don't think anyone cares...it feels genuine today. Betty seems too emotional to talk and just says that the fans are the reason that she is here today. Simone makes the joke that the women fans who were pregnant her first season are now sending their babies off to high school. Zara thanks us for "trying" to learn Italian. Vodo manages to thank us in what little English she has. Suzy tries to avoid talking to us...she says that we were very intimidating her first game here in Seattle while in street clothes, but that we were inspiring her first game in uniform. Jenny Boucek says she isn't used to talking to us, and Jessie Kenlaw says that we are FANtastic. LJ, Sue, Chelle and Tanisha are more reserved...with Sue making jokes about being trite and LJ smiling shyly as the crowd TRIES to chant MVP.
Houston's rout of LA means it is off to Houston for Game 1 on Tuesday. Here is hoping we only get to see Houston for one game in Seattle before the Storm advance to take on the winner of Sparks/Monarchs in the Western Conference Finals!
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Had LA lost last night a win for Phoenix today would have eliminated LA. Heck, I might have just thrown the game just to thumb it in LA's face...OK, maybe not, but it is fun to think about it.
The big question for this game is what AD does with her rotation. Does she play her starters all out in an effort to maintain momentum heading into Tuesday's game one against LA or Houston or rest them up to make sure there are no unexpected injuries?
The other big question is whether LJ gets the opportunity to vie for MVP by putting up strong numbers in her last nationally televised game of the season?
The pregame ceremony for Kamilla will be very emotional, as I said yesterday. It will be great to see her play again. I may clap for her first basket...maybe. Not if it is before the Storm score their first one. The trade seems to have been as good for Kamilla as it has been for Phoenix. They needed a stronger presence in the post, and her numbers are up in almost every statistical category. She has dropped in 3pt%, free throw %, turnovers and fouls. She is really thriving in this offense.
Diana Taurasi is more than just a popular player, she is popular for good reasons. She is a big, strong guard who can shoot, create off the dribble and still makes a fine passer. Her size also helps her rebound quite well for a guard. She likes to post up smaller guards...watch out Sue...that means YOU! We should see the offense put her on the low block as much as they can. Diana and Sue seem to enjoy playing against each other on the court as much as they do hanging out off the court. Every time they play it is fun for the fans as they both step up their game. As Sue says in the commercial for the post season...in the playoffs you step up your game, you have to, or you go home.
Phoenix is not as strong down low without Stepanova, but Kamila has stepped up her game in Maria's absence. I don't think they stand a chance against the Storm's 3 post rotation of JB, LJ and Suzy. Kamilla will get her numbers, but will be overmatched.
Anna Deforge vs. Tenacious Tanisha should be fun. Anna and Penny Taylor have both lit up the Storm in the past, but this year they face our best perimeter defenders in Tanisha and Izzy. Tanisha gives an extra 3" of height over Betty and is a stronger defender to boot. This could be the deciding factor. Good games from Kamilla and Diana could be offset by shutdowns of Penny and Anna.
All in all I expect it to be a great game. I will be holding up my MVP sign every chance I get from the corner by the visitor's basket, and hopefully my 6 year old will hold his up as well. Let's close the season on a bang!
Friday, August 26, 2005
Beat regular season Western Conference Champions in a resounding fashion, reminding them and everyone else who the defending LEAGUE champions are...CHECK.
Secure home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs before the end of the season...CHECK.
This leaves Saturday as more of an emotional welcome back to Kamilla Vodichkova and a celebration of her receiving her championship ring. Kamilla did so much on the floor for this organization over its first 5 seasons, not least of which included several key jump shots in game 3 of last year's WNBA Finals. She means more to the fans than the numbers she put up while in a Storm uniform. She and Tully were the biggest emotional losses for the fans last year. They both had strange, though different bonds with the fans at Key Arena. Tully was the spark off the bench, always willing to throw her body on the floor for a loose ball, hit a key jumper, or harass the heck out of the opposing ball handlers. Add that to her winning off-court smile and the crowds predisposition towards Aussies, and Tully's standing with the fans is fairly clear. Kamilla's is harder to understand, she quickly became my favorite player and I am not quite sure why. She was all business on the court, you almost never saw her smile, though when she did smile it changed everything about her. She struggled with her English whenever a microphone was shoved in her face. She was generally consistent, but seldom spectacular. Still we really loved her, and though the team has not needed her, I think the crowd really misses her. This should be powerful tomorrow, especially considering we didn't get to watch Tully play after she got her ring.
That said, there are still things at stake with Saturday's 3:30 game against Phoenix. The Storm have the opportunity to match last years record, despite losing three starters and the #1 key reserve from that WNBA champion team. It is also of note that they are where they are at the moment, despite having had rookies start at one of the two guard positions for a number of games due to injuries to Sue Bird and Betty Lennox over the course of the season. Secondly, the Storm have the opportunity to set a franchise record for consecutive home wins. I don't expect Anne to play her starters normal minutes, but I don't expect her to surrender a W either. Phoenix will be fighting for their playoff lives since a loss will likely eliminate them from the playoffs. LA has two games remaining...if they beat the Silver Stars tonight then Phoenix MUST beat Seattle to stay in contention. They own the tie-breaker, but an LA loss merely ties the two teams. Phoenix will not know its final fate until after LA faces Houston Saturday evening. LA would have to lose both games for Phoenix to make the playoffs after a loss to Seattle. In other words, they are going to come out fighting.
Back to last night's game though.
Thanks to my Storm account executive for the two suite tickets. I am 100% certain, however, that I prefer being in my regular seats. The suites are too far removed from the action of the game and the emotion of the crowd. I am happy to be back in my regular seats for Saturday...and I will have both the boys since Amy is working.
14 points, 5 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. While the 5 blocks are impressive, the rest of the line is not that exciting for an MVP candidate. Neither statistic helps LJ toward overtaking the league leaders in those categories (Swoopes for scoring and Cheryl Ford for rebound). It was not the numbers that earned her the resounding MVP chants when she was forced to check out of the game with 6 fouls late in the second half. She earned those chants with how and when she scored her points. After struggling all night to get the ball on offense, and get position for rebounds, LJ caught fire right when her team needed her. She nailed a three to return the Storm to a double digit lead after Sacramento made a thrilling run to close in within 4 points of the Storm. She grabbed a key offensive rebound, looked around to pass, suddenly realized she had single coverage on the low block, (for perhaps the first time all game) turned and nailed her signature fade away jumper. Somewhere in there she came over from the weak side to swat a Monarch shot away from the hoop and into the hand of a Storm player. That was it for the Monarchs. LJ had made her point. She was not going to let her team's long lead and 49 point first half go to waste. She was not going to let Sacramento win in Key Arena. She was not going leave any doubt in anyone's mind who the defending champions are, or why they won that trophy. That is why the crowd did not miss a beat telling her, and the audience on NBA TV who the league MVP really is.
JB took advantage of the defensive focus on LJ down low to score 17 points and 7 rebounds. She could have broken 20, if she had just hit her free throws. Her 5-6 shooting, 1 turnover game was only spoiled by her poor 7-13 (53%) shooting from the charity stripe. That was made up for by her solid defense on Yo. JB, LJ and Suzy held the Monarch posts to a combined 7-26 (27%) shooting and limited them to 13 rebounds. Sue turned in a mostly solid 12 point, 2 rebound 5 assist evening, marred only by her 6 turnovers. She had a statement 3 early in the first and closed out the half with a brilliant slash to the basket, hesitation to drain clock, step through runner off glass that drew a foul making it a solid three point play with less than a second on the clock. Izzy had another solid game...scoring right out of the gate for the majority of the team's early points and finishing off the game with 13 points and 8 rebounds. Her defensive play on Nicole Powell is of particular note, Izzy held her to 5-18 (27%) Also of note, Powell went 3-8 (37%) from long range where she has shot a sizzling 42%. In fact, Powell's performance would have been noticeably worse except that she got rather lucky in the second half, finding herself open for a couple of shots during Sacramento's last run. Tanisha Wright did not score much last night, in fact she only took 2 shots all night. She did offer up an impressive 5-1 assist to turnover ratio against the toughest perimeter defense in the league. This is NOT a rookie performance. She passed to open players for scoring rather than be pressured into poor shots or turnovers. BRAVO Tanisha! She showed the fire of Tenacious Tanisha in the first half with a drive to the hoop that earned two points and a trip to the free throw line. She is steadily becoming a taller, more defensive version of Betty. Kudos for AD for recognizing the potential and HUGE kudos to Betty for embracing the mentorship role with such zeal. Tanisha has earned her spot in the rotation, and found herself on the floor in 3 guard lineups twice last night. Particularly impressive was the lineup of Sue, Betty and Tanisha midway through the first half.
The bench was solid. Betty added 8 points, 4 rebounds and an assist in 16 minutes. Suzy chipped in 7 points and 5 rebounds in 15 minutes. Zara followed fellow rookie Wright's example and took only one shot, earning no points, but chalking up 5 assists with only 1 turnover in her 15 minutes. Chelle chipped in 2 points 3 rebounds and an assist in her 7 minutes with a turnover. Simone made a token appearance for the last .9 seconds of the first half to get LJ an extra minute of rest.
The Storm played solid defense on the perimeter and in the post for most of the game. The forced turnovers, including bad passes, jump balls and a 30 second shot clock violation. Many of their defensive efforts will not show up on a stat sheet since their deflections and potential steals ended up in the Monarch's hands, sometimes for lucky baskets. The Storm out rebounded the Monarchs 35 to 27, they had 17 assists to the Monarch's 12, and they held the Monarchs to 33.3% shooting for the game. They also executed their offense with patience and skill throughout all but a few minutes of the game. They refused to let Sacramento's aggressive defense disrupt them until midway through the second half. Suddenly they started to get confused, turn the ball over and get sloppy on defense allowing Sacramento back with 4. They recovered, however, and walked away with the win.
Make no mistake, Sacramento's defense was present, the Storm had 20 turnovers, that is more than they had in the loss in Arco. The difference is that they kept their cool on offense for most of the game. I think partly this was due to Anne Donovan's new three guard lineup. While she introduced it in San Antonio, this was the first time we fans have had the opportunity to see it. It really opens up the offense with three solid ball handlers on the floor. They kept moving the ball around until they found the opening in the gimmicky Sacramento defense. They ran the break at top speed on steals and missed baskets by the Monarchs leading to easy lay ups or opportunities to launch their offense before Sacramento could set up its defense.
If the Storm want to win in Arco, they need to cut down on the turnovers. The Monarchs are not likely to shoot 33% as a team with Walker and Lawson back in the lineup. Their depth will be back to full strength, and there will not be the same spans of time to make offensive runs against their bench. If the rookies keep up this work, the bigs control the post, and AD continues with spurts of a 3 guard lineup, the Storm have a great chance to make it back to the WNBA finals this year.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
This is another opportunity for the Storm to clinch, this time for the #2 spot in the West and home court advantage in the first round. Unless the organization decides to fly the Key Arena crowd with them on the road in the playoffs, it is clear how important home court is to this team. They are 12-3 at home and 6-11 on the road. Only Detroit has a bigger home/away disparity among the top 8 teams in the league (4-12 on the road, 11-5 at home).
In their last meeting with the Monarchs, the Storm were completely smothered by the Monarch perimeter defense. Sacramento has torn up the league this season with their perimeter defense. The PG turnover stats show that this is fairly consistent.
Last ten games...
Guard TO TO Avg. +/-
Taurasi 9 3.3 +5.7
Bird 6 2.82 +3.18
Johnson 8 3.39 +4.61
Hodges 1 1.47 -0.47
Taurasi 4 3.3 +0.7
Staley 4 1.65 +2.35
Darling 9 1.69 +7.31
Johnson 6 3.39 +2.61
Harrower 3 1.61 +1.39
Hodges 3 1.47 +1.53
The only loss of those ten games was to Phoenix when Taurasi was able to maintain control of the ball and stay near her season averages. The Monarchs have held their opponents to 13.5 assists per game this season. Despite have the league leader in assists running their point, Seattle has been held to 12, 20 and 13 assists in the three games played this season so far (including the preseason game). In the one win Seattle was able to break the assist barrier. This was mostly off the spectacular play of the Great Barrier Reef. LJ had 31 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Suzy came off the bench for 14 points and 3 rebounds. Kara Lawson did not play in that game, and Zara was able to come in from the bench for 7 points, 3 assists and 0 turnovers in 13 minutes. Sue, Betty and Tanisha went 2 for 16 from the field with Betty the only one hitting any shots. Sue managed to avoid turning the ball over and still got the ball to LJ enough to rack up 8 assists. In fact, the Storm defense forced 3 more TO on Sacramento than they have averaged for the year.
Both Walker, their leading scorer at 14.1 ppg, and Lawson, their spark off the bench at 8ppg, are out for the evening. The starting lineup should remain strong, with Yolanda Griffith and Rebekkah Brunson making up for Walker's scoring and rebounding. Griffith has had monster games with Walker out of the lineup. She had 25 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots against Phoenix on Tuesday. On Saturday against Seattle she put up 26 points, 6 rebounds and 1 blocked shot. Brunson had foul trouble in Phoenix against Kamila and Belinda Snell, managing 7 points and 6 rebounds. Against Seattle she had a solid 11 points, 9 rebounds and 1 blocked shot.
The Sacramento bench should be the weak point which the Storm should attack tonight. With solid reserve play from Lennox, Batkovic and Zara the Seattle bench should easily outscore the decimated Monarch's bench. With Brunson starting and Lawson out there is not much scoring available off the bench. Seattle's comeback in Sacramento was stymied this weekend by Kara Lawson's hot shooting. That won't be a problem tonight.
Seattle needs to focus on controlling the ball on the perimeter and should use the pick and roll with Sue and LJ right out of the gate. This should create opportunities for JB, Tanisha and Izzy which will free things up later for LJ. When Sacramento's bench comes in the game Seatlle needs to attack on offense and make Sacramento be forced to climb out of a hole.
I am really looking forward to the game tonight, despite my wife standing me up for the evening. It should be an exciting evening, though I am not sure if I will like watching the game from the suite...Will I feel separated from the energy of the crowd? Maybe I will sneak into an empty seat in the lower bowl at halftime.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
2005 3-12 25% Feenstra/Ely
2005 6-22 27% Feenstra/Daniel
2004 10-15 66% Dydek/Goodson
2003 8-16 50% Dydek/Goodson
2003 5-19 26% Dydek/Goodson
2005 9-15 60% Anderson/Daniel (Feenstra off the bench)
2005 8-16 50% Anderson/Thomas (Feenstra off the bench)
2004 8-16 50% Dydek/Goodson
2004 9-15 60% Dydek/Goodson
2003 9-17 52% Dydek/Goodson
Well the only thing I learn is that when Feenstra is starting LJ is struggling. I am not sure if Feenstra was guarding LJ directly or if it is the help, but she seems to be the key. I will write off the one 26% game against Dydek/Goodson as an anomaly since she did 50% or better in the other 5 games against that matchup.
On to the GOOD stuff...
The Storm defense did exactly what I thought it needed to do. Marie Ferdinand went 3-11 and PeeWee was 2-9. Feenstra was a monster going 14 points and 12 rebounds, but six of those points were at the line. She only went 4-8 from the field. San Antonio is like Minnesota in that respect...their posts will score...but if you shut down the guards you will crush them. Teams don't shoot 27.9% from the field on their own...the Storm defense never let them get rhythm or confidence. Only two players from SA hit more than 2 shots for the GAME! Ferdinand had 3 and Feenstra had 4. WOW! That is great defense.
Sue had a solid floor game with 9 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds.
BET-TY! BET-TY! BET-TY! I will be chanting for her tomorrow night when she hits the floor. Wow. What a way to shake off rust and injury. 12 points in 14 minutes with a searing 4-5 shooting from the field. She practically scored as soon as her shoes touched the hardwoods. She will be a big help off the bench or in the starting lineup on Thursday against the viscious Monarch defense.
Izzy and Tanisha were the pleasant surprises of the evening. If Izzy continues to be aggressive when opponents key on LJ and Sue at the start of the game...the Storm will be deadly. Tanisha continues to blossom in her starting role. Ferdinand is a smooth, athletic perimeter player and she was stymied all night. I wish I could have watched it live. Her confidence in her jumper, her passing and her rebounding are proving she is more than a defensive specialist who can drive to the basket. What a great tandem she and Betty will make.
Batgirl gave another solid bench performance, with JB struggling to be effective. I need to see Feenstra play live, our post players were just locked up last night. It is great to see these young bigs come in so strong the past few years. Ohlde, Feenstra and Wauters all have been fantastic. The league has a great future with the balance of strong posts and perimeter players that are joining the game over the past few years.
Next up will be Sacramento tomorrow evening. This is another big one. The Storm don't need it to clinch, but they DO need it to show Sacramento we can take them any time we want. Let's fill the place up!
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Seattle is due to take on the Silver Stars at 5 PDT today in San Antonio. Statistically this game has "gimme" written all over it. SA has only won 7 games all season (though one of them was in SA against the Storm). They have lost the last 6 in a row. They are eliminated from the playoffs already and have little to motivate them. Seattle can clinch a berth with a win. Beyond the smooth play of Marie Ferdinand, the Silver Stars do not have much of an offensive punch.
Seattle is 1st in the league in offense while the Silver Stars are 11th in the league for defense. The Storm score an average of 72.87 ppg to SA's paltry 63.22. SA allows opponents an average of 70.41 ppg. Seattle has won 16 of the 20 games this season where they have score 70 or more points.
Scores in their head to head this year so far...
5/29 Seattle wins 79 to 51
6/30 SA wins 81 to 69 (that is 18 points above their average)
7/15 Seattle wins 92 to 70
Similar to the loss to the Monarchs...Sue had a rotten game with 8 points, 7 turnovers and only 1 assist. In fact, the Storm let the SA starters eat them alive. Ferdinand and PeeWee penetrated all night feeding the posts and scoring at will. The SA bench only contributed 9 points in 49 combined minutes. The Storm had a rotten shooting night with Tanisha and Suzy the only players shooting better than 40%. Even with a 22 rebound advantage, they couldn't beat the Silver Stars, because they couldn't get the ball in the basket. That is not likely to happen again.
Sue 3-13 23%
Betty 4-10 40%
LJ 6-22 27%
Izzy 3-11 27%
JB 2-7 28%
This was one of those road games where the Storm fell behind and just never got motivated as a team to fight. On the road if they fall behind they have tried to push their offense, rather than digging in their heels and defending while they chip away. At home they do dig in their heels, perhaps it is the Key Arena crowd that reminds them to fight every possession.
The Silver Stars live and die by the play of Marie and PeeWee. Sue and Tanisha need to keep them on the perimeter and keep a hand in their face. It is that simple. Make Ferdinand create...she will, but it will eat away at their offensive efficiency. It really is as simple as that. The Storm will not shoot 33% as a team again. The Storm are a REALLY good offensive team, but they seem to forget, at least on the road, that they live and die by their defense. They give up penetration and lay-ups and they get frustrated, play matador defense and get desperate and sloppy on offense. They get a stop or a defensive rebound and take off running, and they make the other team feel frustrated and sloppy.
I think they need to have Tanisha stay on top of Ferdinand all night and deny her the ball as much as possible. Izzy needs to help Sue on PeeWee and risk her "man" taking open jumpers. The Bigs need to stay WIDE AWAKE (YES, I mean you too, Batgirl!!!!) on defense and help the guards to close out the lane. That will open up SA's bigs, but JB, LJ, Suzy and Simone are all fast enough to switch to the open player when the guard gives up the ball.
I look forward to hearing a whole heck of a lot of "no question about it, David"'s from Elise tonight as DL gets going on how Sue is really getting better of defense this season...we haven't heard that since the All Star break, and Sue need to get back to her early season energy on the defensive end.
1 to clinch!!!!
Monday, August 22, 2005
The final 3 games are very complicated with Phoenix having to play BOTH Seattle and Houston leaving the final playoff order in the balance.
Seattle needs to take control of its own destiny. They need beat Phoenix on Saturday and win one of the other two games. This lets them own the better conference record against Houston and own the tiebreaker with Phoenix.
It may all be decided on Thursday however. If Seattle wins tomorrow against San Antonio and on Thursday against Sacramento, with Phoenix falling to Houston...the order will be decided.
If Phoenix wins and Seattle loses either of the games....Saturday will be one HECK of a showdown as they volley for position.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
You could point to Sue Bird's first 0 assist game of the season. Ticha looked as strong as she has in recent years rather than like a 31 year old player at the tail end of her career. Sue did not appear overmatched however.
You could point to LJ's 16 points, 2.2 below her average. She was 6 for 9 from the field however, and only took 6 free throws. She scored more often than not, and her misses were generally tough shots under pressure.
You could point to the 19 turnovers, but that is only 4 more than their 15.3 season average.
Where was the problem? Could it have been rebounding, or bench play, how about fast breaks and points in the paint?
The Storm outrebounded the Monarchs 41 to 36.
The bench was outscored, with Kara Lawson alone matching the Storm bench's 18, but the rest of the Monarch bench only put up 6 points.
Both teams locked in at 2 fast break points.
The Monarchs clearly owned the paint, outscoring Seattle 42 to 34, but in truth it wasn't really post play that did that. Yolanda Griffith was a monster all night putting in a season high 26 points and doubling her season average. That is five points off the career high she set back in 1999 when she was 29 years old. Brunson contributed 11 more. The bench put up 6 more from the post. That is 43 points from their posts. Seattle put up 37 though between LJ, JB and Suzy alone.
In the end, I think that despite solid play from rookies Zara and Wright, this game was decided by guard play. The 13 team assists for the Storm is not far off the 15.3 season average for the team, but most of those came in a bench led spurt in the second half.
Sacramento pressured the Storm guards throughout the game and bodied up on the posts pushing them off the block. They disrupted multiple fast breaks with one on one coverage. The Storm were out of position and almost never got a play established. In the second half the burst of points were off very quick, early in the shot clock plays off crisp interior passing and solid screens for open jumpers.
Seattle really misses Betty Lennox against the Monarchs. Her ability to break down her defender off the dribble and create shots for herself also opens up shots for the rest of the team. When faced with solid team and individual defense as they were last night, the Storm are unable to execute without more creativity. Betty provides that creativity. How many teams are able to win last second games against the Monarch defense? I don't know the number, but I bet every coach calls a second timeout on the last possession of a close game once they see what defense Whisenant has cooked up for them. Betty is the player who came out of "virtual" obscurity for the Storm last year with a buzzer beater to win in Arco for the first time in franchise history. They will definitely need her back if they advance past the first round of the playoffs or they will struggle mightily to win that needed game in Arco.
By the way...I was so excited to see my first High Definition basketball game, but ended up disappointed. Apparently ABC decided not to broadcast the game in HD...another learning point for me...apparently it is not just the HD station, but the content on the station that determines the quality of the broadcast. I knew ABC airs HD material, but apparently the WNBA does not qualify for the added expense.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
On national television today at 1PM PDT Lauren Jackson has the opportunity to demonstrate to the media, particularly the Sacramento broadcast team who recently snubbed her in the MVP top 5 listing, why there is only 1 candidate for MVP this season. Clearly being first or second in 15 of 32 tracked categories and and in the top 10 of 31 of those categories is not enough (she is #15 in FG%, funny how triple teams can lower that overall percentage). Obviously leading the league by almost 4 points in efficiency rating, a blended category incorporating the majority of key statistics, is not a factor to be considered. Being second in the league for point and rebounds while 3rd in blocked shots should not matter, especially at the forward position which hinges on points, rebounds and blocked shots. Being the leader in free throw attempts per 40 minutes, indicating a clear LEAGUE WIDE focus to defend against her, isn't a statistic with which to be concerned. Leading the league in double doubles is not of any real importance.
Comparing her statistics to her MVP year in 2003, she is not as dominant on the offensive end of the floor, however the 2003 team did not have anyone other than Sue Bird to help with the scoring forcing Lauren to provide the additional 3 points per game only to place the storm at 5th in the west. Her rebounding is back up to her 2003 levels, but her shooting is lower by 16 points overall and by 19 points from long range. She has improved her shot blocking by 25 points, reduced her turnovers by 32 points and dropped her fouls per game by 22 points.
The 2003 team had three players averaging double figure scoring...
Best of the rest....
Sandy Brondello 8.2
Adia Barnes 5.5
Amanda Lassiter 5.1
The 2005 team offers the following with 4 players averaging double figures...
Best of the rest...
Year LJ Others
2003 21.2 41
2005 18.3 49
LJ isn't required to score as much in the current offense.
Jayda Evans of The Seattle Times today suggested that Lauren lacks the feel good story that gets the media's attention. The 6'5" foreign power forward shooting 31% from 3 point range got their attention. This year she is just another superstar youth putting up league leading numbers. A comeback story like that of Sheryl Swoopes with her adorable son in tow all season is much more interesting and draws the voters focus more easily. I love Swoopes. She is everything the league wants out of its players...talented, fiery, beautiful (not important on the floor, but critical in the marketing), well spoken and charismatic. LJ is shy (though she has come a long way), quiet and humble. Sheryl dominates games in the spotlight, while LJ comes off the floor with a double double you barely even realize she earned.
Today is a big time game. The surprise conference leaders take on the defending champions in what could be a preview of the Western Conference finals, and all on national TV. LJ is not going to change her game to try and put up 30 points, and she doesn't need to. She needs to make sure her team wins the game and furthers the distance between themselves and Houston. They want to lock up their magic number and secure a slot in the playoffs. Does that mean LJ won't have a great game? I believe she most certainly will, like she does most every game. The real question is whether the media will take notice.
Friday, August 19, 2005
The Storm get an unfortunate boost in the first minute of action when Lynx center Vanessa Hayden gets her shoulder smashed by Tanisha Wright in a scrum over a loose ball. It is sad to see any player get hurt, but I side with the no call here. The ball is on the floor, the players job is to get it, and you choose to put your body on the line to do so.
Good signs abound in the early going with aggressive play at both ends from Tanisha and Izzy...this will be key to winning on the road and that is something the Storm need to do in the post season. If they hold on to second place, they are still likely to have to face Sacramento without home court advantage should they advance. With the loss of Margo Dydek for a few weeks, I am not so sure the Sun make it all the way to the finals, but if they do they will own home court this year. Zara, Suzy and Simone also come in off the bench with confidence and fire. This needs to carry over on the road as well.
JB picks up 2 early fouls, but AD leaves her in long enough to put up some more points and then subs in Simone???? Is Batgirl on AD's bad side? Since when does Simone get the nod over Suzy right out of the chute? She contributes right away, as she always does.
Darla and Roy are calling the game, tonight. We get to see the "experience" they bring to the game early as Darla calls a travel on Amanda Lassiter which Roy reverses. Apparently Roy thinks it is OK to dribble toward the basket, jump up with the ball, land and then take a jump shot. Hmmmmm....
The half looks like it is going to close out on a high note, but Sue's buzzer beating three pops back out after going in. My wife turns to me and says, "Don't they play two halfs in the woman's game?" I nod, and she says, "It's already half over?" That half did go by quite fast. A Minnesota assistant coach picks up a technical foul from one of the refs (couldn't see him through the stantion) as he is putting on his jacket. I don't know what she said, but her body language looked like she was just asking him a question. Either he had a quick trigger finger, the boos of the crowd were getting on his nerves, or she had very poor word choice. Anyway, the Lynx must be sweating, they are down by seven and LJ only has 4 points. You KNOW she is getting close to 20 by the end of the night, and Sue hasn't really been that aggressive yet. Someone other than Ohlde needs to get it going.
The half time free throw contest takes more than half the break. The girl sitting a row or two behind me finally makes the last shot for a $100 at the team shop. No entertainment here, wonder if they are saving up for the playoff entertainment or we are just stuck on a tight budget for the Storm's immediate future.
The Storm come out from the break on fire. They continue to play solid defense and execute well in the offensive sets. The game is essentially over after 5 more minutes. Ohlde is the only player having any success for the Lynx. She gets better every time I see her. She has a great feel around the basket, and even hits a midrange jumper on the angle.
Sue and Lauren put in solid, consistent play throughout the 2nd half. Neither one does anything spectacular, or really draws attention to them, but Sue is filling up her stat sheet and Lauren is walking away with a double/double and 4 blocks. More importantly, Izzy finds her shot and puts up double digits in the second half alone. JB is in foul trouble the whole game, and still manages to score, draw fouls from the Lynx, and grab rebounds every time she is in the game.
The game ends up being unremarkable and not too exciting. The crowd doesn't even get fired up other than when Izzy and Lovelace (glad to see her held in check this time) get into it and draw offsetting technicals. I like seeing a little fire from the Brazilian...the Storm will need that. No one seems able to get the MVP chant started before AD takes LJ out of the game. By the end of the game my 17 month old son is mimicing the Foam Finger Guy and raising his hands in the air...saying "drib, drib, shoo" and stomping his feet. I think I have a long term seat mate in the little guy. He loves being at the game more than his 6 year old brother ever did. He is shaking, waving and screeching trying to get Doppler's attention (he never does). He also keeps trying to get the blimp to come closer. When the blimp guy lowers it to take it out of the arena it comes right over our heads.
AD is, as expected, humble with regard to being the first woman to 100 wins. She gives credit to her players, her staff and thanks the organization for the opportunity. I love her looking forward to 100 more wins "hopefully" in Seattle. I can't imagine they don't re-sign her at market value. Without any real big players in the COTY running, perhaps AD wins it this year.
Magic number of 1 and High Definition on ABC against Sacramento at 1pm this Saturday. 4 games to go!!!