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June 11, 2010 at 6:53 PM

Game thread: Los Angeles at Seattle

LA BEATEN: What happened to the Western Conference? The Storm deflated L.A. 82-60 with the final points coming off a blooper by Vesela, who was attempting a rebound put back. But the way the ball pinged off her hands and into the net made me feel sad for the Sparks. Yeah, Storm fans won’t agree, but it was sad the way this cluster of Olympians and All-Stars stooped to scrappy play and couldn’t win even with their cheap shots. Your mind drifted to whether L.A. would ever get it together. Bird believes they will, throwing in the towel, so to speak, and just playing basketball. Parker will be happy when that day comes. In three games against the Storm, she’s been limited to 15.7 points. In her other games, she’s averaged 24.5. I always argue with my Dad about who’s better between these two and Jackson has just usurped Lisa Leslie’s place as the WNBA’s best post player while Parker is the new Jackson — young, gifted and will be a beast from the lessons the Aussie is teaching. My Dad doesn’t agree, but Jackson began to dedicate herself to defense under former coach Anne Donovan and has really fell in love with it under Agler. Around her are others long dedicated to the mindset, which makes the Storm so fun to watch. They get the easy points when their opponent isn’t setup defensively because of their own dedication. Plus, the Storm is gifted offensively 1 through 8 in the lineup that anyone can score when running offensive sets. On Friday, the Storm outscored the Sparks 10-2 on fast breaks overall and shot 51.4 percent in the first half to put the game away. The bench was seamless, led by Abrosimova, who had nine points, three steals, two assists and two boards. Seattle is 9-1, surpassing the previous best mark of 8-2 in 2004. But the team has only played three Eastern Conference teams, which so far are better standings-wise. The Storm will really see where they are, heading out on the road next week to face Indiana and New York in a back-to-back set. L.A. needs to pick itself off the KeyArena court and figure out how not to let this season get away from them. “They do everything right,” said Gillom, whose team drops to 2-7. “They’ve been together for a while and know each other well. I think this is their year right now.”
WHO’S ON FIRST?: Vesela knocked down a three-pointer with 8:43 remaining in the game and now you’ve got to wonder where the starting rotation starts and the bench begins. Seattle is up 68-49, shooting 50 percent. The team is 5-of-19 from three-point range, but the timing of the money ball has Gillom cursing to the heavens. And calling timeouts in an effort to dull the moment.
SPOTTED: There are plenty of notables at KeyArena. Sonics legend Slick Watts judged a halftime dunk contest. Washington coach Tia Jackson is seated with Parker’s mother and daughter at halftime. And Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown is seated with the Force 10 Hoops ownership group.
CHECK THAT: LA is playing defense. It’s just that when Seattle swings the ball around the horn, the Sparks can’t catch up. One possession went like this, reserve Svetlana Abrosimova passed on a shot because she was covered. She kicked it to Little, but she didn’t have a good look at a three-pointer. Cash was up next, but she spotted an open Bird and before the Sparks could adjust, the three-pointer swished through the net. The lack of switching and Seattle shooting 51.4 percent has lead to LA being down 42-29. Bird leads with 10 points while Jackson (eight points/four boards) and Cash (nine points/five rebounds) are on double-double watch. No Sparks player has more than Parker’s five points. She’s 2-for-6 from the field. As a team, LA is shooting 36.7 percent from the field. They have given up 13 points on 10 turnovers and were outscored 20-8 inside the paint.
PARKER RETURNS: The Storm bench, coupled with Jackson and Wright, put on a show to start the third quarter. But Parker checked back into the game and Agler made lineup adjustments, too. A three-pointer by rookie Andrea Riley has the Sparks down 33-20 with 5:20 remaining in the half.
END OF FIRST: Parker is out of the locker room, but has her warm-up top on, not appearing like she’s going back in the game. Seattle is up 26-13. UPDATE: Parker will return.
PARKER OUT?: Little did a fake move to the hoop and Parker reached to defend, stopping short because she felt something in her injured left shoulder. It’s heavily wrapped in a black brace with a strap to limit certain movement. Parker was replaced in the lineup by Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, immediately heading to the locker room with the team trainer. Seattle is up 26-11 with 47.6 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
DEFENSE?: Apparently LA doesn’t know who to guard. Seattle is hitting its three-pointers and is on a 10-3 run to pull ahead 20-7 with 2:16 remaining. Bird was left open on a three-pointer, prompting Gillom to call timeout to talk over their strategy. Toliver is at the line.
SIT DOWN!: Usually KeyArena is warm to Clarence Lennox because of his sister, 2004 Finals MVP Betty. But Friday he was told to sit down. The Storm, taking a cue from church, asked all of the first-timers to stand during an opening quarter timeout. Clarence, dressed in green pinstripes did, and everyone from media to fans told him we knew it wasn’t his first Storm game. He’s a fixture like Doppler — whenever Lennox is plays here. Sunday is Clarence’s birthday, by the way. Seattle is up 12-7 with 3:47 on the clock.
BIG LITTLE: Is someone carrying Little’s bags on the road? She’s carrying the Storm to start. She literally ripped three balls from LA’s hands, leading to two fast break points. The third wasn’t an immediate score, but the possession was due to Little’s defense. She does lead the WNBA in steals (2.56). Storm is up 8-2 with 6:45 remaining in the opening quarter.
PAY BACK?: Jackson and Thompson are good friends, going all the way back to when the Australian was on her national team and Thompson faced her in international competition. But Jackson had terse words after a hard hit by Thompson in Saturday’s four-point win in Carson, Calif. Thompson whacked Jackson in the nose and the latter thinks it’s broken. “I told her, ‘I think you broke my nose (expletive),” Jackson said with a laugh. The incident occurred in the first quarter. Jackson briefly left the game to stop the bleeding and continued to play.
With five games on the WNBA slate Friday, it’s one of those nights where you wish your local TV shop would run LiveAccess on five different screens, order up popcorn and let you chill until the last matchup is decided.
By midnight, more will be known about who’s legit and who still has work to do — even though it’s still early. The Los Angeles-Seattle headliner is one of those games. It’s the third meeting and the Storm has won the previous two, so they could clinch the regular-season series with a win on Friday. The teams play five games this year due to the WNBA shrinking to 12 teams.
It would be just the fourth time in Storm history that Seattle has won a series against L.A. The Storm won the series 2-1 in 2002, swept the Sparks 4-0 in 2007 and won a three-game series in 2006. It didn’t help in the postseason as Seattle was swept by eventual champion Phoenix and LA in the opening round of ’07 and ’02, respectively and lost to Los Angeles 2-1 in the ’06 postseason’s first round.
The Sparks (2-6) haven’t won on the road against a Western Conference opponent this season and still haven’t clicked, playing six games decided by seven points or fewer — losing four. The issues seem to stem from a new starting lineup getting to know each other and first-year coach Jennifer Gillom. Then there have been the injuries to PG Ticha Penicheiro (ankle).
Penicheiro didn’t start the outdoor loss to Seattle (8-1) on Saturday nor Phoenix on Tuesday because of the injury. But she warmed up Friday and is back in the lineup against Seattle. Penicheiro historically play Storm PG Sue Bird well and Toliver nearly helped her team win against Seattle in the fourth quarter on Saturday, so it’ll be a rough night regardless.
But the focus will still be between MVPs Lauren Jackson and Candace Parker. Parker leads the WNBA in points (22.6), rebounding (10.9) and minutes played (35.9). Defensive pressure on her will be key for Seattle. Yet Storm coach Brian Agler doesn’t want it to just be Jackson vs. Parker.
Seattle was able to handle L.A. in the opening meeting at KeyArena because the team as a unit disguised its help-defense to cover Parker, throwing the All-Star off in when she should pass out of a potential double-teams and when she should attempt to score. Parker was limited to 10 points and 11 boards in the 14-point loss at KeyArena.
Defense was a focus this week at Storm practice. We’ll see if it makes a difference Friday. Let’s start with your starting lineups:
F Tina Thompson
F DeLisha Milton-Jones
C Candace Parker
G Ticha Penicheiro
G Noelle Quinn
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
Tonight’s officials are Clarke Stevens, Felicia Grinter, and Eric Brewton.



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