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August 17, 2010 at 7:14 PM

Game thread: Minnesota at Seattle

STORM WINS: I’m reminded of Lin Dunn a lot this Storm season. She said one day the Storm would catch up to the Houston’s and LA’s of the WNBA, but then, “We’re just a two-year-old competing against a five-year-old.” Well, the Storm is technically still young even though Bird said she feels older and Seattle is close to some of those records that seemed untouchable. On Tuesday, it was tying the Sparks for most consecutive wins at home at 16 with a 68-64 victory over Minnesota. LA set the mark in 2001 when teams played 30 games, however. Seattle’s 16-1 mark in 2008 was the best under the current 34-game format. Still it’s moving this Storm team closer to those charter teams that established the WNBA. It took a monster rebound by Little and two missed three-pointers by Alexis Hornbuckle and Whalen to seal it for Seattle (26-6). Despite the loss, the Lynx remain in a three-way tie for third in the West at 12-20. Minnesota could be Seattle’s first-round opponent and the Storm could kick LA from contention with a record-setting 17th win on Saturday for the season finale. I wouldn’t put a win past the players, either, because they’re starting to return to playoff mode. Jackson admitted she’s “learned a lot the last week. It has been a real eye-opener for myself.” The Storm took a break on the road, benching, resting, and playing odd combinations with the starters while opponents were jockeying for playoff positioning. With two games remaining, the Storm needs to fine-tune itself – mainly its laxed starts and playing better defense. “We knew we were undefeated at home and we wanted to keep that going,” said Cash, whose defense helped make Augustus a non-factor, shooting 2-for-18 in the game. “But I think we talked more about just getting back on a roll playing-wise, using these three game to get prepared for the playoffs.” It was a missed opportunity by the Lynx, which have lost nine games this season by five points or fewer. On Aug. 1, Minnesota was fortunate that Bird missed at the buzzer. On Tuesday, she made her basket and received defensive help from teammates as the Lynx were 7 of 32 from the field for 25 points in the second half. Minnesota, which once led by 16 points, was outscored 16-8 in the critical fourth quarter alone. “We’re pretty disappointed,” said Reeve, whose team plays a huge game at LA on Friday. San Antonio is the other Western Conference team in contention to advance to the postseason. “We’ve played them four times now. Last time we were here, they made some big plays down the stretch, much like today. I’m disappointed that we didn’t have a better offensive showing.” Jackson led all scorers with 24 points while Whalen had 20 for her team. Little had 12 points and 14 rebounds for Seattle. The Storm is off on Wednesday and travels Thursday to play at Phoenix on Friday.
THERE’S BIRDY: Bird connected on a dribble jumper with 2:04 remaining, Jackson collected a big defensive rebound and Cash shook off Whalen for a turnaround layin that all put the Storm up 66-64 with 59.3 seconds remaining in the game. On the line? Oh, just a 15-game home win streak. Minnesota called timeout.
WHERE’S BIRD?: Forgot to mention that Bird is 0 for 7 from the field, but she has eight assists and two rebounds. She was 4 of 4 from three-point range against Washington on Sunday.
GO GO GADGET: Jackson seemingly grew length on her arms, grabbing a Bird miss and putting it in the hoop to tie the score at 58 points apiece with 7:48 left in the game.
NEW REFS!: KeyArena is keeping it clean, but clear on what they want. The crowd in Section 106 started the chant of “New Refs,” which spread — until there was another missed call. Seattle is down 58-56 with 8:18 remaining in the game. Wright re-entered the game and got the Storm started with a layin to open the fourth quarter.
FEEL ME?: Abrosimova nailed a three-pointer with 24.6 second remaining in the third quarter to pull Seattle within 56-52. Minnesota is working hard and Seattle is responding with good pressure defense, but misses some rebounds, which the Lynx just scoop up for a score. Cash is heating up, scoring nine points in the quarter. Seattle outrebounded Minnesota 12-6 overall in the quarter.
WRONG STUFF: Wright was hyped after being called for her fourth foul by Bonner ( a bad call). Willingham had to pull her back after Agler pulled Wright out of the game. Wright stood arguing her case — that she was driving to the hoop and turned sideways, so how could she be charging — but Bonner didn’t care. Little scored a big basket and the Storm is only down four with 4:12 on the clock in the third.
AUSSIE REVIVAL: Jackson is getting busy. A rebound and three-pointer where the ball hardly touched the net has the Storm closer to the Lynx’s lead at 44-37 with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter. Minnesota doesn’t ever stop fighting for balls and Seattle is caught taking a break from time to time, but has started to take the game a little more seriously. Augustus is still off, shooting 1 of 12 from the field. Reeve said she needed her and Wright playing well to win. We’ll see if it makes a difference Tuesday.
CONFIDENCE BUILDER: Reeve said the win against Seattle and playing the Storm close in the other two games has given her team confidence. The matchup is a bad one for Seattle because of the Lynx youth, Whalen’s superior play at PG and the post players willingness to sacrifice their bodies just as much as Seattle. The Storm has veterans who should be able to adjust at the break, but it’s going to take better passing and rebounding. The Storm has been limited to four offensive boards in the first half and is getting outrebounded 23-16 overall in the opening half. Whalen leads with 13 points and four assists while Jackson has 12 points for Seattle.
SMACK THAT: Cash had the play of the half, albeit off a turnover by Bird. The ball was lost at the top of Seattle’s key and as Whalen appeared to race down court for an easy layin, Cash reached her long arms over the top and swiped the ball away for a block. Little eventually scored on the offensive end, but Seattle is down 39-28 at the break. The Storm has 12 turnovers, which the Lynx has converted into nine points. Minnesota has also attempted 14 FTs compared to five for Seattle.
WHALEN: Augustus is off, but Whalen is hearing her name a lot at the Key and that’s not a good thing for the Storm. Despite Bird adding an extra layer to Whalen’s jersey, the Lynx PG is 6 of 8 from the field for 13 points and four assists. Minnesota up 35-24 with 2:25 on the clock.
CAT-LIKE: The Lynx are flying all over the court with their younger legs, getting in the way off all entry passes to Jackson in the paint. It’s causing turnovers and some easy transition buckets. Agler has called time, again, to get his team going. Minnesota is playing tough defense and Whalen is making Bird work, as usual. Minnesota has stretched its lead to 31-19 with 5:37 left before halftime.
OFFICIATING: Calling Dee Kantner, please take a look at WNBA officiating. When I spoke with league president Donna Orender prior to the All-Star break, she said that statistics showed it was improving. After 10 fouls in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game, I’d say it’s quickly killing the league. And I’m not the only one. Had the conversation with a few East Coast reporters, who agree. Still, you have to play through the vast amount or lack of calls and Seattle isn’t so far. The Storm is down 24-12.
ROCKY START: The Storm is down 16-8 with 4:33 remaining in the opening quarter. The team is shooting 27.3 percent from the field (3 of 11) and is getting outrebounded 7-4. The Storm is missing some defensive assignments and looking for calls from officials. Whalen leads Minnesota with seven points.
There’s a French feel running around KeyArena. Former Washington Husky Laure Savasta returned with about 41 youths and their families on a sports tour. Called Camps de Basket, Savasta and participants attended a Mariners game, went whale watching in Puget Sound and around the San Juan Islands, scrimmaged at Hec Ed, and are attending the Storm’s game against Minnesota at KeyArena.
The game is the pies de resistance, reuniting with Storm G Tanisha Wright and Lynx stars Hamchetou Maiga-Ba, Kristen Mann and Charde Houston, who all spent time playing in France. Savasta and the group leave on Wednesday.
Watching the Storm versus the Lynx should be a humdinger, too. Minnesota (12-19) needs to win to continue its pursuit of a playoff berth. The Lynx ended the Storm’s 13-game win streak, collecting a one-point victory at the Target Center on Aug. 1.
But on Tuesday, Minnesota will play without post Nicky Anosike, who has swelling in her knee.
Coach Cheryl Reeve will start Houston in Anosike’s place. Houston is averaging 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in her past 11 games off the bench.
“We’re concentrating on this, whatever is going on back home, we haven’t been given an update,” Reeve said. “She’s struggled the last six to eight weeks.
“When you lose a starter, it make it more difficult, there’s no question. Every game we play from here on out is important in terms of our playoff lives and playoff positioning. It has been like this for a while for us. But I don’t know that I would call this a must-win game. It would certainly be helpful as we try to control our own destiny.”
Storm fans certainly would call the matchup a must-win for Seattle (25-6). The team is 15-0 at KeyArena and a win would tie the WNBA record for home wins, which was set by Los Angeles in 2001.
Seattle coach Brian Agler said he’s going to play the game closer to normal. The regular starters will begin the game and rotations won’t be so odd — like Camille Littlle and Tanisha Wright not playing in fourth quarters or Sue Bird seeing only six minutes of action.
“I don’t know if we’ll go big, big minutes with some of our players,” said Agler of playing anyone more than 35 minutes. “I guess the best way to try to analyze the road trip is we were trying to win those games, it was just that we were trying to win in a different kind of combination.”
Well, the combination that won a franchise-record 13 games was the following starters playing hard from tip to finish. Let’s get you started with that.
F Seimone Augustus
F Charde Houston
C Rebekkah Brunson
G Lindsay Whalen
G Monica Wright
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
Tonight’s officials are Amy Bonner, Tom Mauer, and Eric Brewton.



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