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June 19, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Game thread: Seattle at Los Angeles

STORM LOSES: Unlike the Minnesota loss, the Storm locker room was somber and players were truly irked at the 74-50 beating they took at Staples Center. Bench players were really bothered, getting outscored 40-7 as Hoffman (12), Toliver (11), and rookie Jantel Lavender (10) finished in double figures for LA. The Sparks (3-1) are deep and big and the Storm (2-2) has a lot of work to do to get to their level, odd since the Storm appears to be more talented on paper. “We’re kind of trying to find our way and we’ve got to figure out our identity and then go for it,” said Smith, who was 2 for 7 from the field. “We’ve got a lot to prove. (The bench) has got to do our part. We’ve got to find our niche when it comes to the offensive end. On the other hand, you’ve got to guard if you’re not scoring.” Bird mentioned Los Angeles’ use of the zone, which slowed the game down in the second quarter. Agler also admitted the team simply missed some of the good looks it did have and didn’t try hard enough to get inside the paint. Wright spoke of the chemistry being off on the court. All correctable, you’d just figure it wouldn’t be the Storm’s issues to start the defense of a championship with a veteran team. The loss is Seattle’s first in seven games to LA. “I have to say our defense was our claim to fame,” Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom said. “We did a great job on the zone defense in the first half. In the second half, we came out with the intensity we needed to not let them back in the game.” The Storm travels to Tulsa on Monday and may not practice, instead watching game film and going through a walk-through. Agler feels his team will be great at some point this season, just not now.
CALLED IT: Should also mention that Agler has called the game, in a sense. He started Wright, Ashley Robinson, Little, Cash, and Smith to start the fourth quarter. Bird and Jackson have yet to re-enter the game. Ibekwe has checked in, however, with Seattle down 72-49.
OBVIOUS STAT: The Storm is obviously not shooting well, so it’s no surprise the bench is getting outscored 36-6. LA leads 68-47 with 4:50 left in the game.
TEAM PLAY: The Sparks are putting this game in the books, Toliver passing to Hoffman, who made the fast break layin just before the buzzer to give LA a 57-41 lead. The Sparks are keeping the Storm out of rhythm by drawing fouls and the Storm is shooting a paltry 29.6 percent from the field. Bird is taking over the offensive responsibility with 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists. She’s shooting 50 percent from the field. Hoffman leads her team with 12 points and four boards off the bench.
ROTATION SHORTENED: Willingham was tagged for her fourth foul, pulling her from the game for a while. Robinson is in while Little replaced Jackson. Seattle is down 48-39 with 2:04 left.
CLOSER?: A Quinn three-pointer killed a little flow Seattle started to create, Cash collecting a steal and kicking out to Jackson for a made trey. That bucket pulled Seattle within 43-34. But now the Storm is down 48-36 with 2:59 remaining in the third quarter.
HALFTIME: The WNBA is preparing to celebrate its 15th anniversary and the Storm apparently wants to get in on the celebration, taking their game all the way back to Jackson’s rookie season where she popped threes and didn’t want to get physical in the paint. Only then she made the long-distant shot. Sunday she’s 2-for-9 from the field, missing four three-pointers. Seattle is 2-for-11 from the range overall in the half. The Storm isn’t getting outworked inside, however, because of Cash and Little. The former leads her team with nine points. G Katie Smith is also cold, missing all four of her shots to not give an offensive spark off the bench. LA is sharing the ball well, getting 10 assists on 16 made FGs. Parker (eight), Milton-Jones (eight) and Toliver (seven) are leading the Sparks to a 39-25 advantage at the break.
SPOTTED: Gonzaga’s Haiden Palmer is seated in posh lower-bowl seats. She’s a native Californian (Moreno Valley). Cash sank a three-pointer to pull Seattle within 31-17. New York Liberty G Cappie Pondexter was also at the game. The Liberty face the Sparks in the 15th anniversary game on Tuesday.
SPARKS FLYING: Well, Seattle’s defense is missing as LA is shooting 7-for-9 from the field in the second quarter to take a 31-14 lead with 4:07 remaining in the half. Milton-Jones leads with eight points. The Sparks are also leading the rebounding battle 18-11, not giving Seattle any second-chance points.
WHY THREE?: For some reason the Storm’s 6-foot-6 center is three-point-happy instead of trying to post up. Seattle is 0-for-8 from the range overall from the range, Jackson missing all four of her attempts. LA is on a 6-2 run to build a 23-10 lead with 6:42 remaining in the second quarter. Agler has pulled Jackson.
UGLY GAME: The Storm closed the first quarter shooing 18.8 percent from the field (3-for-16), worse than Indiana did against them on Friday. But I wouldn’t give LA too much defensive credit. The shots are poor selection and bricking. The Sparks only lead 14-8, shooting an equally underwhelming 5-for-16 from the field.
TECH II: Storm F Le’coe Willingham was called for a tech and she had a point, too. Maybe could have used better words. Milton-Jones shoved her into a Sparks player and Willingham was tagged for the foul and tech. LA is up 12-8 in the first quarter, Seattle shooting 18.8 percent from the field.
TECH: Cash was called for a technical with 5:26 remaining in the opening quarter, upset at not getting a foul called on an offensive rebound attempt. Thomas missed the ensuing FT. Cash has gone back to work inside, scoring on a fast break layin from Wright to help Seattle stay close, trailing 7-6.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY: KONG-TV felt the game would be something Seattle Dad’s would want to see, tune-in for its debut of the 2011 season. The Storm wrote about Little and her father’s influence on her game while I wrote about rookie Ify Ibekwe’s return home to be around her Dad for the special day. Storm coach Brian Agler’s children aren’t with him, his daughter Taylor preparing for a big summer in AAU play. He said he misses not being able to catch her development because of his summer gig. Meanwhile Bird said the coolest thing her father ever did for her was build her Barbie doll house, which had a pulley-styled elevator. “That was the greatest Christmas ever,” she said. Jackson said she has a nasty streak to her Dad despite him doing everything for her when she’s home, including washing her car before she leaves their Albury home. But Father’s Day is actually in September for Australians. Parker wrote this piece for her Dad.
Surprisingly Los Angeles star Candace Parker forgot about the matchups against Seattle last season. The games where she internally battled her shoulder injury (until Camille Little accidentally knocked it out of its socket) while averaging just 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in three loses. Parker officially dislocated the shoulder in Minnesota and underwent surgery in June, playing 10 games in 2010.
“It’s good to be back healthy after a couple of seasons playing with injuries,” said Parker, who’s only played in 34 games since winning the WNBA’s MVP award in 2008. “They were hard (the games against Seattle). Obviously they’re a good team, very physical, defensive and they rotate well. But we played them early in the season and hadn’t meshed well or figured out our identity, yet.”
In addition to being healthy, Parker and teammates are simply eager to get back on the court much like Seattle was in a win against Indiana on Friday. The Sparks (2-1) have been off the past nine days, experiencing intense practices earlier this week and tapering back in preparation for the game on Sunday.
While the Storm (2-1) players were indifferent to their lag time (eight days before Friday), preferring to play but appreciating the practice time, Parker was blunt in her opinion about the early WNBA schedule.
“I don’t like it,” said Parker, who scored 22 points in a win against Phoenix on June 10. “After a win, you want to keep your rhythm. So, I like playing every other day, especially early-on in the season because I think it’s very important. Maybe three-days in between. But to have nine? That’s really tough.”
Seattle shouldn’t expect to toy with L.A. as it did last summer, also defeating its rival in the postseason en route to wining the WNBA title. Parker is healthy and Sparks veterans F Tina Thompson, PG Ticha Penicheiro and F DeLisha Milton-Jones appear to have figured out how to mold with the star.
Most dangerous, however, is free agent Ebony Hoffman (USC) returning to her native state after carving a name for herself with the Fever. She’s a rebounding menace, averaging 5.3 points and 5.7 boards in three games off the bench. Then there’s G Kristi Toliver who’s shooting 52.6 percent from three-point range off the bench to open the season. Toliver is averaging 13.3 points.
Storm All-Star Sue Bird said Friday’s win against the Fever was the “epitome” of her team, Seattle holding Indiana to 2011 WNBA-low 29.1 percent from the field in a 68-54 win. The defense was inspiring to a basketball aficionado.
Let’s see if that defense was packed in the Storm’s luggage for the first of two road games or if the Sparks’ time off gave them time to figure out how to regain control of their nemesis. It all begins with your starting lineups:
F Swin Cash
F Camille Little
C Lauren Jackson
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
F Tina Thomas
F DeLisha Milton-Jones
C Candace Parker
G Ticha Penicheiro
G Noelle Quinn
Tonight’s officials are Scott Twardoski, Daryl Humphrey, and Brenda Pantoja.



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