Tonight the Storm finally return home from their five game road trip. They return with an overall .500 record after going 2-3 on the road. They are playing more consistent basketball than when they left town, and both their offense and defense will be tested tonight as they face their third instance of "Paul Ball." Lauren Jackson is questionable for tonight's game pending MRI results on the knee she injured in Chicago last week. Betty Lennox has found her shot and her game on the road, Shaun Gortman has become the defensive stopper on the perimeter and Barbara Turner has declared herself the "sixth man" in the absence of the injured Wendy Palmer.
The Storm have faced two different Mercury teams due to lineup changes this year, though the end results were the same each time, Storm victories were acheived.
Phoenix seemed to figure Seattle out in their last visit to Key Arena, however, with Cappie Pondexter virtually bringing the team back from a 13 point fourth quarter deficit. Phoenix closed within 4 points before Seattle finally clamped down with Shaun Gortman's defense on Pondexter and produced their own 6 points across three players in the final 2:28 of the game. Since that game Phoenix has gone on to defeat league leaders Sacramento, Detroit and Connecticut at home. They lost both their road games, to LA and Minnesota during that same period.
Seattle on the other hand has lost on the road to Sacramento, Connecticut and Indiana, and lost at home to San Antonio. Seattle defeated the expansion Chicago Sky twice and also defeated the struggling Minnesota Lynx on the road.
The question for the Mercury tonight is whether Phoenix comes in playing like their last quarter in Key Arena and the team that is bringing down the champions on their home court, or a team that has yet to win a road game this season and was embarassed by Seattle in seven of the last eight quarters they have played. The question for the Storm is whether they can leverage their home crowd to build upon their improved play and break over the .500 mark again.
The Storm starters have played very well against the Mercury this year, with a plus/minus value of +12. However, 10 of their best lineups against the Mercury included the now injured Wendy Palmer who has been a strong +15 against the Mercury in the first two games. They will need continued strong play from Barbara Turner who is +5 against the Mercury this season and they will need a better contribution from Tiffini Johnson who is -4 against the Mercury so far. Tiffini has played well in the past few road games and may very well fill that needed role tonight.
The Mercury have really struggled against the Storm. Their most effective lineups so far this season have been with the bench players. Their top two lineups had Taurasi on the bench. Reserve forwards Belinda Snell and Sandora Irvin are the only Mercury players that have a positive +/- value against the Storm this season. Someone other than Taurasi and Pondexter will need to score tonight if they have a hope of stealing one from Seattle at Key Arena.