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July 9, 2011 at 6:34 PM

Game thread: Los Angeles at Seattle

STORM WINS: Smith wanted to give a fist pump after her first three-pointer of the season dropped. She entered the game shooting 23.2 percent from the field, but finished with a season-high 13, including three made three-pointers in the fourth quarter. “I missed enough to start,” said Smith, who moves back into third place on the WNBA’s all-time scoring list since Jackson is injured. “It’s nice to get a rhythm going. It was a little bit of a relief to get a couple to go down.” The onslaught in the fourth quarter helped Seattle win 99-80, its largest output against LA. Wright’s first-half three-pointers and Cash’s third quarter play ignited the win. They were two of four players finishing with season highs in scoring, Cash leading with 26. The Storm (6-4) is reserving the term “breakthrough,” however. They’ve had good offensive games against weaker teams in Tulsa and Washington and faltered when really challenged. Since the Sparks have yet to win a road game in six tries and Seattle plays best at home, we’ll see. Still, seeing the ball drop in the bucket was nice for the reported 9,686 at The Key. “We’ve had some growing pains — figuring ourselves out, figuring out how we’re going to work together,” said Bird, who had 17 points and eight assists. “Tonight was kind of payment for that because we knew it was right there on the cusp. Tonight, we got over the hump a little bit.” The Storm is off on Sunday, returning to practice on Monday in preparation for Washington (2-8) in a matinee on Tuesday. Minnesota defeated Connecticut 90-67 at home on Saturday, so the Storm moves a game behind the Lynx (7-3) and Silver Stars (7-3) for the top slot in the West. Phoenix (7-4) is a half-game back, ridding a three-game win streak.
ERUPTION: Cash scored 16 of her current 21 points in the third quarter to help the Storm build a 70-60 lead. The series of fun offense was capped by a Bird three-pointer with 3.1 seconds left. Seattle’s lithe post players are dominating inside (42-26) and the team is a better 4-for-12 from three-point range. Seattle has muted Hoffman (0-for-4), but needs to do something about rookie Lavender. She has 19 points and nine boards. She keeping the Sparks in it along with Milton-Jones’ timely buckets.
HELLO FREEBIES: The Storm is getting to the line, again. Wright’s two has Seattle shooting 12-of-17 from the line. (LA is 7-of-9) Add back-to-back, high-flying layins by Cash and Seattle is suddenly up 57-49 — it’s largest lead of the game. There’s 4:04 remaining in the third quarter.
CASHING IN: With Little out with four fouls, Cash is playing inside. She’s swept the baseline twice for layins. Her third attempt on a fast break missed, but Robinson collected the board and drained a putback without a dribble. It didn’t count, though,m cause Cash was fouled. Seattle is up 49-46 with 5:57 on the clock.
VALID POINT: Willingham was called for a foul that KeyArena didn’t like and I have to say Stevens got it wrong. Milton-Jones’ smack to Willingham’s face was audible from the press row seat in front of the incident. Willingham was called for pushing Milton-Jones out-of-bounds, which happened after the first offense. Willingham was nearly called for a technical foul because of the no-call. Seattle is down 44-43 with 7:43 remaining in nthe third quarter.
MAILBAG: From Twitter, a follower asked if Jackson was at KeyArena. She’s here, cheering the team on in a funky street clothes on the bench. Jackson is still using crutches to walk.
HALFTIME: Bet defense is discussed at the break. The Storm had a quasi offensive breakthrough, but either didn’t box out or missed assignments on the other end that allowed LA open shots or putbacks to remain in the game. LA took a 39-38 lead into the break after a Milton-Jones putback with 27.7 seconds left in the half. She leads her team with nine points. Wright’s hot 5-for-9 shooting leads the Storm with 12 npoints/ G Katie Smith has a team-high five boards off the bench, but her continued struggles have the Storm reserves being outscored 11-6. And I guess since Smith and Snell are Olympians, we can say LA’s bench is an unfair advantage with Thompson and Penicheiro missing their first start of the season.
WRIGHT STUFF: Seems like Wright’s offense has checked in for the season. She nailed back-to-back three-pointers to help the Storm tie the game, again (34 points apiece). Seattle is still having trouble closing out on the defensive end, otherwise they could have a lead.
MS CONGENIALITY: Don’t WNBA refs know Little was once Homecoming Queen? How could they disrespect royalty with these foul calls? Little has three with 5:35 remaining in the first half. Storm coach Brian Agler has kept her in the game, counterpart Willingham doing damage inside and out to help Seattle tie the game at 28 points apiece. Willingham nailed the tying trey with 5:46 on the clock.
LEGENDS IN: WNBA legends Thompson and Penichiero have checked into the game, lining up with Aussie Jenna O’Hea and reserve Natasha Lacy with Lavender at center. LA ledads 23-20 with 8:45 remaining in the opening half.
NICE PLAY: C Ashley Robinson checked into the game and stole a Sparks ball, dishing it off to a fast breaking Belinda Snell for a layin. The bucket inched the Storm within 21-18 to end the quarter. Bird had led with five points, three assists and one block. Milton-Jones is leading LA with seven while Lavender has four boards. Both teams are shooting 47.1 percent from the field.
LET IT RIDE: Gillom hasn’t made any substitutions as the Sparks have built a 15-11 lead with 2:37 remaining in the opening quarter. Four points off FTs and four off of two Seattle turnovers.
MISCUES: Two turnovers isn’t how Gillom wanted her new lineup to start. But a Toliver and Quinn miscue is exactly what happened, Seattle turning them into four points. One was a Wright steal and layin while the other was a nice hi-low pass by Bird to Cash inside. LA now leads 5-4 with 6:47 remaining in the opening quarter.
MORE BLING: Cash and Bird were presented with their FIBA World Championships gold-medal-winning rings prior to the game. The design has a diamond-crusted shaped star on the face and was made by Tiffany’s.
BACKSEAT: It’s not Penicheiro’s day in a sense. In addition to not starting, Indiana All-Star Tamika Catchings’ six steals in a 68-57 win against Washington makes her all-time leader in WNBA history (738). Penicheiro has 736 heading into Saturday.
G’DAY: Former Storm assistant Sandy Brondello returned to The Key as assistant coach for the Sparks. She was fired as coach of San Antonio, GM Dan Hughes returning to the position this season and leading the Silver Stars to a 7-3 start. Brondello and her husband Olaf Lange, who also coached in San Antonio, moved back to her native Australia. He’s head coach of the Logan Thunder in the WNBL and she’ll be the assistant coach. The family of four is spending half the year in LA with mom and the other in Australia.
Crazy early WNBA stat: The Tulsa Shock average the highest attendance on the road (8,668). Either fans want to see a guaranteed win — the Shock are winless outside of Oklahoma — or the additions of Marion Jones, Sheryl Swoopes and Australian phenom Elizabeth Cambage really do sell tickets.
Saturday’s opponent for the Storm in Los Angeles is second in road attendance at 8,541. But the Sparks, which are 0-5 away from Staples Center, are without 2008 MVP Candace Parker, who’s rehabilitating a knee injury. LA has the depth to collectively fill the void and experience, Parker only playing 10 games in 2010 due to a shoulder injury.
Yet, closing out games has been problematic for the Sparks. Coincidentally the Storm is having the same trouble due to its sketchy offense. It’s allowing opponents to get big leads that are too much to overcome with the late runs that worked during the 2010 championship run.
It’s an issue that can’t just be pegged on missing three-time MVP Lauren Jackson because Seattle is getting open looks. And defense is a matter of focus and communication.
“Everybody can do a little bit more and collectively that’s going to be a key to our success,” Storm All-Star Swin Cash said. “We’ve talked about not letting teams get up on us. We have to spend so much energy to get back into the game and we’ve been one of those teams were we could comeback and win games, but we haven’t really shown that this year. It’s something we need to overcome.”
The Storm lost 74-50 in LA with both Jackson and Parker in the lineup. It was the fewest points allowed by the Sparks since defeating Sacramento in 2009. Reserves were key, the Sparks bench outscoring the Storm 40-7.
Backup post Ebony Hoffman is starting place of Parker in the rematch, however, and G Kristi Tolivier is no longer a catalyst off the bench. She’s starting her first game of the season, appearing in her first matchup since elbowing Ketia Swanier in a 101-92 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday. The accidental hit caused a 29-point swing.
Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom also added rookie C Jantel Lavender to the starting rotation. benching veterans Tina Thompson and PG Ticha Penicheiro. The coach is looking for something to shake the Sparks out of their four-game losing streak.
The Storm has lost its past two.
With San Antonio losing to New York on Friday, a win could be pivotal for either team in the playoff race. Seattle (5-4) is only 1.5-games out of first in the West while LA (4-5) is 2.5-games back.
Who’ll gain footing? It all begins with your starting lineups:
F DeLisha Milton-Jones
F Ebony Hoffman
C Jantel Lavender
G Kristi Toliver
G Noelle Quinn
F Swin Cash
F Camille Little
C Le’coe WIllingham
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
Tonight’s officials are Clarke Stevens, Cameron Inouye, Tom Mauer.



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