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July 16, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Game thread: Seattle at Minnesota, the road version

STORM LOSES: Seattle made two surges in the final quarter to cut the lead to seven and six points, but missed shots by Bird, team turnovers, and missed rebounds kept the Storm from keeping the rally going. In a somber locker room, All-Stars Bird and Cash were reiterating Agler’s words to media, simmering the panic. “Brian talked about how it’s still pretty tight,” Bird said of the Western Conference standings. “Obviously these last two losses definitely don’t help. But it’s still tight and there’s a lot of basketball to play, those are his words, and we’re here to play it. You never know what can happen.” The Storm (7-6) drops to three games back of the lead in the West when it had a chance to get close to Phoenix’s 10-4 command. Still, it faces San Antonio at home next week and Minnesota and Phoenix on an upcoming road trip. Perhaps by then its offense will truly be consistent, shooting 9 of 23 from three-point range against the Lynx (9-4). Agler said he’s thinking about implementing more plays and possibly designating players to have the ball to shake Seattle out of lulls or get them over the hump when making late pushes. He ran Bird a lot at shooting guard to get her to score more and Wright’s drives to the hoop stopped runs. Only it was momentary. Wright led her team with 18 points while Bird added 15 and Cash had 16 with six turnovers. Augustus was All-Star worthy with her game-high 19 points while Brunson added 16 with six boards. But Minnesota was held below its scoring average due to Seattle’s defense (82.9). If gave Agler reason to be positive after the loss. “He’s trying to keep us in the moment and realistic,” said Bird of Agler’s postgame peptalk. “Just because you’ve lost two in a row doesn’t mean that the season is over. We’re fighting hard out there and it’s not fun to lose. But it’s more of a reminder that there’s still a long way to go and we can’t let one or two games get us down.” The Storm drops to 2-5 on the road, losing its sixth game after only losing that amount in an entire season in 2010. Seattle travels to Chicago on Sunday and will practice Monday before playing the Sky on Tuesday. Chicago lost to Atlanta on Saturday.
MAILBAG: Baff was a little bothered by the lack of updates after the Storm went down 20. You may notice that’s the norm, since I also write a web story that’s due right as the game ends. Depending on my speed, I’ll update more, but I could feel the Storm wasn’t going to win this one.
GAME OVER: The Lynx are on a 22-2 run, the Storm not scoring thus far in the second half to fall behind 45-26 with 5:33 remaining in the third quarter. Seattle has missed five shot attempts to start the final half of play. Augustus is putting on a show, leading with 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting.
BLOCK PARTY: It’s on in Atlanta as Chicago C Sylvia Fowles has a career-high seven blocks in helping the Sky build a 54-51 lead against the Dream.
LYNX PARTY: It’s Prowl’s (the Lynx’s mascot) birthday and his celebration is awesome. He had a mascot showdown obstacle course and sumo wrestling skit, that were fun to watch. No echo song or afternoon start. Nice.
UGLIER: Did they lower the hoop in women’s basketball? Apparently the Storm thought so, attempts hitting the bottom of the rim. The misses made for a 12-0 Minnesota run, Seattle struggling with an approximate six-minute offensive drought. Bird ended it with a jumper with 2.4 seconds remaining in the half, to inch the Storm within 35-26 going into the break. She has half her team’s points with 13 on 5-for-10 shooting. The Lynx’s scoring is more even, Augustus and Brunson leading with eight points apiece. Although Seattle has grabbed five offensive boards, Minnesota has kept the Storm to 1-for-6 shooting in second-chance opportunities. If Seattle could catch fire offensively, they could get back in this game.
RUN CONTINUES: The Lynx are on a 1-0 run, Seattle going 0-for-3 from the field to fall behind 33-24 with 2:23 remaining in the half.
TOO EASY: Minnesota went on a 7-0 run to pull back ahead 29-24 in a flash. Smith has complained that the officials are calling Lynx fouls, but will have to leave that argument alone. Surely Agler is talking about defense and not letting Minnesota get in another running game. Last time that happened, Seattle lost by seven in the June debacle. There is some reason to this rocky play, the rotations being different and lineup being small. But still…There’s 3:23 left in the half.
AIR SWIN: Cash has tossed up a third airball, two in the San Antonio loss. She’s 2-for-5 from the field overall. Cash needs to get back to her offensive game to help Seattle. But she’s not the only one flinging up air. Minnesota G Candice Wiggins has thrown up two tonight along with teammates Adair and Monica Wright. After two shots by Bird, the Storm is down 25-24 with 5:42 on the clock.
BENCH ACTION: Agler has played all players available, expected since he’s missing both Lauren Jackson (hip) and Little. Reserve G Belinda Snell knocked down a tying three-pointer with 29.9 seconds in the game, but two FTs by Jessica Adair gave Minnesota a 18-16 lead after one quarter. The Storm is shooting 37.5 percent from the field and has given up seven points on seven turnovers. Both were points Agler hoped wouldn’t be an issue against the Lynx.
HALF GOOD: The Storm is playing good defense, forcing turnovers. But started the game shooting 0-for-5 from the field, needing back-to-back layins by Wright to get on the board. Seattle is down 13-8, shooting 3-for-11 from the field. Smith also has two fouls.
The Storm altered its starting lineup, placing G Katie Smith in the lineup over F Camille Little, who’s not with the team due to a pre-scheduled personal matter. Storm coach Brian Agler said Little will join the team in Chicago.
It’s a drastic change for Saturday’s game. Little was the game-changer in the second meeting between the teams, scoring a team-high 16 points and helping hold F Rebekkah Brunson to two points on 1-for-5 shooting form the field. Brunson had a string of consecutive double-doubles entering the game June 24 at KeyArena, but also only had seven rebounds in a 10-point loss to Seattle at KeyArena.
“In terms of how we want to play, we have to come out with the same kind of energy,” Agler said. “That defensive effort that we had the last time we played them.
“We also have to get to the free-throw line, stay with them on the rebounding and control the game on the offensive end — make sure we’re efficient and not turn the ball over.”
Lack of rebounding and free-throw shooting kept Seattle from coming back in a 69-66 loss to San Antonio on Thursday. Seattle is shooting 17.8 percent from the line this season and averaging a WNBA-low 72.1 points.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is living up to preseason hype. Finally healthy, the Lynx have won three of their past four games, including ending Indiana’s seven-game win streak with a 80-70 road win on Friday.
The matchup with Seattle is Minnesota’s fourth in a week, yet a chance to gain control of the four-game series is energizing. The Lynx could also had the Storm its sixth loss of the season, matching Seattle’s total in a historic 28-6 season last year.
Will it happen? Questions will be answered, beginning with your starting lineups:
STORM
F Swin Cash
F Katie Smith
C Le’coe Willingham
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
Lynx
F Maya Moore
F Rebekkah Brunson
C Taj McWilliams-Franklin
G Lindsay Whalen
G Seimone Augustus
Tonight’s officials are Kurt Walker, Denise Brooks, and Marcus Clayton.

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