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August 25, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Game thread: Tulsa at Seattle

STORM WINS: Call it the big four coming to you this weekend. After another ugly win, 74-57 against Tulsa, the Storm’s magic number to clinch a playoff berth is four. So any combination of Storm wins and Los Angeles losses totaling four, would seal a slot for Seattle. The Sparks play the Shock on Friday. If that’s a win, the weekend if ripe for the Storm to earn its berth by defeating the Sparks in a home-and-home set. “They’re trying to make the playoffs, so for them, these games are even bigger,” said Bird of the fifth-placed Sparks, who recently returned Candace Parker from knee surgery. “When so much is on the line, you know it’s going to be aggressive. For us, it’s an opportunity to not only get a win, but give another team a loss.” But while defense wins games, you still have to make at least one point more than your opponent. Add everyone but Lauren Jackson and Wright appear to have struggles at some point in doing that. Jackson led all scorers with 14 points on 4 for 9 shooting from the field in 15 minutes. Wright added 12 on 5 for 7 FGs, but the other starters were trying to build a new brick arena. Officiating was oddly on the Storm’s side, getting to the line for a season-high 22 makes. Tulsa was 8 for 8, irking Edwards, “The disparity in free throws pisses me off,” she said. “This is a championship-contending team and we have to give them respect for who they are, but we went, played hard and fought. I’m a little upset about (the fouls). I’m not even mad at my team, I’m just mad about the dynamics of the game.” The Shock (1-25) didn’t stick around much longer to discuss, bolting before all of the fans had even left KeyArena. That’s what a record 20-game losing streak will do. Seattle is off on Friday, practicing Saturday in preparation for two big games against LA. The Storm (16-12) already moved into a tie with Phoenix (15-11) for second in the West, both teams 5.5-games back from Minnesota’s lead.
A FIRST: Forever seven-day contract G Allie Quigley scored her first points of the season, the final being a fast break layin off a steal to serve as the game’s final points. The former DePaul star finished with four points, two off free throws. Now everyone on the Storm roster has logged points this summer.
JACKSON RESTS: Swoopes (12 points) is warming up offensively, but it looks like Lauren Jackson will sit the remainder of the game out since the Storm is up 64-53 with 2:56 left. The Aussie has a team-high 14 points in 15 minutes. Wright is second in scoring with 12. Robinson has nine boards.
DOUBLE TECH: Jackson isn’t friends with Shock F Abi Olajuwon, at least not after locking elbows and needing to be separated by Bird and officias. They were both awarded with technical fouls with 4.6 seconds left in the third quarter. Seattle outscored the visitors 28-16 in the quarter, though, to build a 56-41 lead. Jackson had nine of her team-high 14 points in the quarter while Seattle held Tiffany Jackson scoreless.
YOU READY?: Edwards walked up to Cambage on the court and asked her a few times if the rookie was ready, “Are you sure you’re ready?” Edwards questioned the player before inserting her in the game. Cambage isn’t having the double-double night she had the last time she was in Seattle, not taking a shot attempt in the opening half. Seattle is up 38-32, Cambage making her first basket of the game.
KID FRIENDLY: Maybe because I don’t have kids, but how does helping them cheat on a spelling bee competition help kids with anything? Am I the grouch? Anyway, the Storm held its annual “bee” at halftime, making one a loser and four others winners. Funniest part was when a kid was asked to spell “referee” and the Key broke out in boos.
HALFTIME: I was talking to the Shock’s PR rep before the game and he was pitching Tiffany Jackson for the WNBA’s Most Improved award, knowing the Shock’s record and lack of exposure would probably hurt her chances. It seems the Storm is helping the campaign — although Robinson is an equally good candidate. Seattle is allowing her cuts in the paint and put-backs for a game-leading 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field at the break. Jackson also has six rebounds. The effort has Tulsa within 28-25 at the break. The Shock have committed 13 turnovers for 11 Seattle points. The Storm has limited turnovers, but is shooting 34.4 percent from the field — 3 of 16 from the field in the second quarter. Mainly if Cash (0-for-5 FG) would make a basket, the Storm could stretch this game out. Bird, Jackson, and Smith have five points apiece to pace Seattle.
MINI RUN: Reserve Katie Smith capped a 5-0 run, picking off a Tulsa pass and sprinting down court to patiently pop a three-pointer. The shot put the Storm up 25-17 with 4:12 remaining in teh second quarter. Cash (0-for-4) is the only player who’s been put in the game who hasn’t scored.
BIRD RETURNS: Bird will be back on the court, returning to the lineup with Jackson. Seattle is up 20-17 with 6:37 remaining in the second quarter. Reserve Ashley Robinson helped frustrate Cambage inside, forcing turnovers. A-ROb also made some nice moves on the offensive end. but the Storm as a whole is starting to miss buckets, limiting it from extending the lead. Seattle is shooting 34.6 percent from the field now, compared to Tulsa’s 43.8. Holt hasn’t returned, taking what appeared to be aspirin on the bench to heal a possible headache.
BIRD HURT?: Bird jumped for a pass as Shock PG Andrea Riley also went for the ball, smacking Bird in the eye. At first, Bird seemed to be OK, then she crouched over and starting wincing. Agler called a timeout and she’s being seen by trainer Tom Spencer. Seattle ended the quarter with a one-point lead. Bird leads with five points. Jackson leads Tulsa with six points and four boards. She’s 3-for-3 from the field.
THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT: Both teams are shooting 50 percent from the field and aggressively on defense to create a fun game. Who said the Shock stink? It’s a bugger for the Storm, though, they’re doing everything the can — including popping three-pointers — and only lead 18-17 with 3.9 seconds left in the first quarter.
HOLT DOWN: Jackson and Wright tangled with Holt as the Shock player tried to cut through a screen. It looked scary for Jackson and Holt, but no call was made and Wright picked up the dribble, taking it down court for a fast break layin. Seattle leads 9-6 with 6:48 remaining in the opening quarter. Wright leads with four points.
MUCH lOVE: Swoopes was introduced and the Key went wild, standing and applauding her return to Seattle. She played two sporadically seasons for the Storm. Once the public address announcer announced Lacey, however, the place was more quiet than a monastery. G Betty Lennox, who was the 2004 WNBA Finals MVP for Seattle, is not here. She suffered a concussion in the Lynx loss Aug. 14 and is in Tulsa recovering.
It’s a gorgeous day, perfect for moving…up to second place in the Western Conference. The Storm (15-12) sits a half-game behind Phoenix (15-11) for the coveted slot and could tie for the position since the Mercury didn’t play Thursday.
Seems to be an easy task considering Tulsa (1-24) is Thursday’s opponent at KeyArena. The Shock are on a league-worst 19-game losing streak, haven’t won in Seattle since 2009, and Lauren Jackson is in a uniform.
Only the Shock have been playing much better since Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards took over the helm. Three of Tulsa’s past five games have been decided by six points or less, the Shock creating chances to win against Minnesota (Tuesday) and Los Angeles (Sunday) this week.
But they weren’t wins.
“They’re playing well,” Storm coach Brian Agler said. “They’re big and they’re playing with a purpose, which you have to do in this league. They’re a good team. Are they a playoff team? No, they’re not going to make the playoffs. They can definitely make a difference on who makes the playoffs before it’s over with.”
Jackson completed her routine warmup with Camille Little pregame and will start. A 6-foot-6 center, Jackson experiences soreness after play, returning last week from hip surgery in June.
She played 24 minutes in Tuesday’s 63-55 win against San Antonio, scoring 13 points with seven boards. Agler said Thursday that he’d like to keep her minutes in the 20-range.
“This league is really competitive, so if they know there’s a weakness or a vulnerability, people are going to go for it, definitely,” Jackson said. “I’ve definitely felt that the last few games. I don’t think anybody would intentionally go out to hurt me, but I think people are very aware that I’ve got a bum left hip and it’s a rather big joint.”
Agler said he’s going for the win and knows having Jackson will make it easier than when the Storm dragged itself through 20 games without her, going 9-11. Plus Jackson knows fellow Aussie Liz Cambage, the 6-8 Shock rookie, the best. But Cambage was the player Jackson tangled with in suffering a torn labrum on June 21.
Agler also hopes he has the real Swin Cash on Thursday, the one with offensive game to complement the defense. Cash has been in a scoring slump, shooting 24 percent from the the past six games. She was on the court pregame taking shots with assistant coach Jenny Boucek and most dropped.
“Every player goes through periods like this in their career,” Agler said of Cash. “The one thing Swin has done, which is a good thing, is she’s started to focus on other areas like she’s rebounded the ball extremely well the last few games. She’s penetrated and really made some great kick-out passes to some shooters. Part of (her slump) is we haven’t been able to get out in transition because the games have been somewhat halfcourt games. She’s good in (transition). But the more people start focusing on Lauren and surrounding her, it’s going to open up a lot of things for a lot of people.”
Is Thursday that breakout? Let’s see, starting with your starting lineups:
F Jennifer Lacey
F Sheryl Swoopes
C Tiffany Jackson
G Ivory Latta
G Amber Holt
F Swin Cash
F Camille Little
C Lauren Jackson
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
Tonight’s officials are Susuan Blauch, Maj Forsberg, Tim Green.



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