The Storm have had a really favorable schedule this season. I realize that by the Hollinger Ratings petrel has been compiling this season, the Storm have the best "Strength of Schedule" rating in the WNBA at this point in the season, but I am not talking about WHO they play.
Like many WNBA teams, the Storm were missing their two star players, Bird and Jackson, for most of training camp. The Storm, however, got a six day break after starting 4 and 1 for the season. They were able to use that break to work Jackson and Bird into the new defensive and offensive schemes developed by incoming Coach Brian Agler. They went 4-2 out of that mini-camp before struggling on the road and suffering their only home loss of the season to date. That run was capped by a Candace Parker dunk to end a 14 point punishment in Staples Center. That loss was followed by another five day break where Coach Agler conducted another mini-camp to focus on locking the defense in and tuning up the offense. This also appeared to allow struggling shooters Sue Bird and Katie Gearlds to break out of their long slumps. The Storm have gone 6-0 over that span.
Finally, Lauren Jackson has left the team to prepare for the Beijing Olympics and attempt to help wrest Australia's first gold medal out of the hands of the favorite USA team and the Becky Hammon led Russians. The last five games before the league wide Olympic break will require the team to play without their star player. Fortunately, the Storm have a six day break before they play that first game on the road without LJ. This gives Coach Agler the chance to work his new rotation and change the team's offensive focus. It also prevents the first teams (Indiana and Washington) from scouting the offense. If the trend holds, the Storm could go 4-1 for a third time after their mini camp. All five games are "winnable." They have already beat each of those five teams in Key Arena, and Sacramento was beat in Arco Arena.
Indiana is struggling to hold on to fourth place in the east, despite the return from injury of star Tamika Catchings. According to Kevin Pelton, the Fever have the second worst offensive rating in the league. Seattle has the second best defensive rating in the league behind Indiana, but boasts the 6th best offensive rating. Indiana has been scoring around 92 points per 100 possessions and Seattle limits opponents to 93 points per 100 possessions. It is likely that Seattle will hold a struggling offensive team well below its season average. Seattle has locked down offensive teams like Phoenix, Minnesota, and New York. No team at home or on the road has scored more than 78 points against the Storm since that first mini camp in May which was focused on defense. Their defense forces tough shots (39% opponent FG%) and they are rebounding really well defensively (70% of available defensive rebounds) leading to limited second chance opportunities. While Indiana has played well against offensive teams, they have lost every game against the leagues best defenses. They are not strong enough offensively to score enough points against a solid defense.
Washington sports the league's worst offensive rating and is only sixth in defense, leading to a similar situation as faced in Indiana, but with the balance leaning even more in the Storm's favor. They have struggled against the best offensive and defensive teams though they have wins against both LA and Indiana, so they have overcome their offensive woes in specific games. It appears it was likely their defense that made the wins possible in those cases.
Minnesota started the season off strong and has a potent offensive attack, sitting at second in the league behind Phoenix, but their defense is below average. They are a bit of an enigma, with wins over the best offensive and defensive teams in the league mixed with losses against those same teams. Fortunately their home court has not been favorable as of late, they are 4-5 at home since June 1st.
Phoenix has not played well against the Storm this year. They have the league's most potent offense coupled with the league's worst defense. This has led to an 0-4 record against the leagues most balanced teams, Seattle and Detroit. I am sure that they want revenge on the Storm, however, particularly Diana Taurasi. She is a fierce competitor and her buddies Sue, Swin and Lauren beat her twice this season. The first game in Phoenix was 87-83, and this time the Storm have to play without LJ. I expect Cappie and Dee to sniff the blood in the water and start a feeding frenzy of scoring. The Storm's defense will need to be focused, since it is not likely Phoenix will try to stop their offense.
Finally, Sacramento has struggled against the Storm this season and boasts the only other road win on the Storm's schedule so far this season. The Storm won both games by double digits. Sacramento once boasted the best defense in the WNBA, but they are the third worst behind only Phoenix and Atlanta. Unfortunately for them, they have the fifth worst offense in the league meaning they have not much hope of overcoming their poor defense. The poor defensive rating for the Monarchs makes me laugh about Lisa Leslie's comment on how the Storm defense wasn't near as high pressure as the Monarchs. Funny....the Monarch may pressure the guards and the posts, but they aren't stopping anyone from scoring...except apparently Los Angeles.