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May 27, 2012 at 7:05 AM

Storm makes first visit to defending champion Minnesota

ChampBanner.jpgThe Storm plays its first game against the defending champion Minnesota on Sunday in an unfamiliar position — the Western Conference basement. Seattle is (0-2) to start the season, its worst since going 0-3 in 2003 and not advancing to the postseason.
News doesn’t get much better for Seattle in five of the upcoming six games are away from the comfy confines of KeyArena. But Seattle was 6-11 on the road last season and finished second in the conference, so there’s your glimmer of hope.
“What we have here is a very good team and we have the chances to be a great team,” Storm PG Sue Bird said after practice this week. “We have all the pieces, it’s just getting it together.”
Turnovers have been the Storm’s biggest issue, averaging 23 in its two games, both against Los Angeles (3-1). Minnesota will easily capitalize on that fault, getting out in transition where it loves to score, anyway.
Add Rebekkah Brunson’s work underneath the basket and the game could get away from Seattle fast. The Lynx have outscored opponents by a league-best 16 points this season and four of Minnesota’s players average double-figure scoring, three chipping in at least 7.3.

Obviously an easy reason for the disparity is Minnesota returns nine players, including all of its starters. Seattle returns three starters, but majority of the team playing the bulk of its minutes didn’t practice together until the week of its season-opener. For Seattle, the staccato beginning to the season has acted like an extended training camp to fine tune what’s learned in games.
“When you have a team that’s back and have a lot of veteran players that have played together a long time, you can bypass a lot of the things,” Storm coach Brian Agler said. “Your process can move along a lot quicker because there’s a lot of continuity and people playing in unison. But when you have new players, it takes time for them to learn to play together as a unit. By the end, we’ll be measured as a team that probably improved as much as anyone else from day one to the last game.”
The Storm was 1-3 against the Lynx in 2011, losing both games at the Target Center. Seattle last won in Minnesota in 2010 during its own championship run.
“Practice was intense,” Bird said of Thursday’s session. “We worked on both offense and defense. Really figuring out and forming our identity and sticking to it. We also did a lot of up and down for conditioning because when you get tired, that’s when teams can fade away from what they’re good at…We’re still going to be tops defensively, there’s no doubt about that. From there, we have a lot of weapons offensively and as a team, I don’t think we’ve done a good job of really helping each other out. Putting each other in good spots. That’s where learning each other, you can see the benefits.”
There’s only one other game on Sunday, Atlanta (1-1) hosting Indiana (2-0). The Fever, Lynx and Connecticut Sun (3-0) are the only unbeaten teams remaining in the WNBA. The Storm, New York Liberty (0-4) and Tulsa Shock (0-3) are the sole teams searching for a win.
“They’re going to defend really, really hard,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said of Seattle. She’s not exactly thrilled with her team, however. “We’re shaking off things. I want them to play hard and smart and in (the Los Angeles) game we played hard, not necessarily smart. We’ll see how things are after practice.”
*PHOTO CREDIT: A shot of Minnesota’s championship banner by Getty Images.

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