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June 3, 2012 at 7:37 AM

Seattle versus Los Angeles: The regular-season series clincher?

BirdToliver.jpgIt’s gospel night Sunday at the Los Angeles Sparks’ game against Seattle this evening. The Storm (1-3) is hoping its doesn’t need a prayer to snag its first win of the season against its rival.
The Storm lost the opening two of a five-game regular-season series with the Sparks (4-1) by an average 9.5 points. If LA wins again, they’ll own any tiebreakers for seeding heading into the postseason. Storm coach Brian Agler will tell you the team isn’t necessarily focused on the playoffs now, outside of it being part of the big-picture goals, but trust that the Storm doesn’t want this series decided before the Olympic-wide break in July.
Four of the matchups are without three-time MVP Lauren Jackson.
If the Storm is going to get that win, it’s going to have to play stronger inside and not lose track of PG Kristi Toliver on three-point shooting. She’s nailed 13 this season, including a game-winner against Tulsa on Tuesday, ranking second in the league in attempts at 50 percent. She’s averaging 20 points overall to start the season.
Inside is F Candace Parker, who’s averaging 18.4 points and was smacking the Storm all over the court in a 13-point win in Seattle in May. She finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.

Part of the Storm’s problem was still getting to know each other. The team is entering its third week of practice as a complete unit, about the designated time of the WNBA’s training camp this year. The Storm already showed signs of improvement in a Tulsa blowout on Friday, normal reserve players Eva Kobryn, Shekinna Stricklen, and Katie Smith making key contributions. Smith started to help with the ball handling against the Shock’s pressure and helped the Storm finish at a season-low 11 turnovers.
PG Sue Bird led, breaking out of her mini slump to finish with 27 points behind five made three-pointers.
Agler even stopped to talk to Stricklen, the No. 2 draft pick, after the win. She had six points, five boards and two steals in 24 minutes off the bench.
“He told me ‘Good job!'” Stricklen said of the quick locker room chat. “But I’ve got to be a lot more aggressive.”
Sparks rookie Nnemkadi Ogwumike, the two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year, was named rookie of the month last week. The No. 1 overall draft pick is smoothly learning how to play off Parker, averaging 13.8 points and 5.8 rebounds. The former Stanford star is shooting a whopping 59.5 percent from the field.
Outside of the game, the gathering of Sparks fans Sunday will have an emotional undertone as they remember Orlando Woolridge, the team’s former coach. Also a longtime NBA great, he died late Thursday at his parents’ home in Mansfield, La. at the age of 52.
”He was such an energetic-type, big player,” said Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Jack Sikma, who played against Woolridge as a member of the Sonics. ”He really was one of the early athletic-type players to come in the league, where we see a lot more of that now.”
There are five WNBA games on Sunday, so I hope you have your pocorn ready if you’re not headed to any of the arenas to watch live. Seattle’s will air on KONG at 5:30 pm (PST), the station’s debut for the season.
Washington (1-3) is at Connecticut (3-1) while Tulsa (0-5) is still searching for the first win, playing Phoenix (1-4) in the dessert. The Mercury re-signed PG Andrea Riley and are trying to cope with life without its biggest stars due to injury.
Indiana (4-0) and New York (0-5) are wrapping up a home-and-home lineup, but expect the outcome to be the same — the Fever rolling over the winless Liberty.
Lastly San Antonio (2-2) plays at Minnesota (6-0), the most unsatisfied, undefeated defending champions I’ve ever seen. Perhaps their standards will be why they could become the first team in a decade to win back-to-back titles. Los Angeles was the last in 2001-02.
*PHOTO CREDIT: Storm PG Sue Bird drives on Sparks G Kristi Toliver by Associated Press photographer Elaine Thompson.

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