UPDATE: Storm C Lauren Jackson was present at KeyArena on Tuesday. She was given a bouquet of flowers during a pregame acknowledgement of her Olympic achievements, but did not play in the 86-73 loss to Minnesota before a low 6,169 fans.
Here’s our game story heavily featuring Jackson’s return. She’s expected to practice on Wednesday and start in Thursday’s matchup against Indiana. The Fever lost on Tuesday at Los Angeles.
A curious thought crossed Sue Bird’s mind last week.
“I was watching (practice) and thinking some of these players haven’t even played with her (Lauren Jackson),” Bird said. “They don’t even know who she is really as a player, a person, anything from first-hand experience. It definitely will be great to have her back. We’ll just have to (continue) to hold down the fort until she does like we did the first half of the season.”
A three-time WNBA MVP, Jackson is at least stateside. She had unexpected Australian national team obligations after being named flag bearer for the Olympic Games, leading parades and attending functions with the country’s Prime Minister. Jackson, a four-time Olympian, also set the all-time Olympic scoring record as the Opals won bronze.
Storm coach Brian Agler said Jackson won’t play Tuesday. There’s also question whether she’ll even be at KeyArena for the nationally televised game against Minnesota on ESPN2. She could be given time to recover from jet-lag like C Ann Wauters when she arrived from Belgium during training camp.
It could mean teammates don’t practice or see Jackson until Wednesday’s practice.
“I’ve heard a lot of really good things about her and heard she’s funny and really fun to be around,” said Storm F Alysha Clark, one of two players who haven’t played with or against Jackson.
“I think that (being funny) kind of plays into the whole aura of our team, everybody is like that,” Clark continued. “I’m excited to meet her and hear her accent. I love people who have accents.”
Rookie Shekinna Stricklen, the No. 2 overall pick in the WNBA draft, is the other player unfamiliar with Jackson. But thinking about the way the two could play off each other is intriguing as Stricklen continues to develop.
Clark also wouldn’t have to play so much on the block, although talented despite being an undersized post at 5-foot-10.
“I’m so excited to finally get to meet her,” Stricklen said. “This team is ready for her to be back, having another post player with size. We’re kind of short inside. But we’re proud of her being honored in Australia. We’re just ready for her to get back.”
The Storm’s first loss, 84-71, at Minnesota began the chorus that Seattle couldn’t play without Jackson, a 6-6 center. Disregarding the other new pieces, plenty talked about the 40-27 rebounding disparity, the Storm only collecting eight offensive boards.
Rebounding has been an issue with the Storm (10-11) all season. Seattle has been outrebounded by a combined 17 boards in its past two games since the Olympic break. The squad is still missing posts Wauters (Achilles) and Thompson (knee) is limited.
It’ll be a focus against the Lynx (17-4), who are on a four-game win streak. But more importantly, the Storm is just glad Jackson is back in the city and should be on the court, soon.
“It means a lot,” said Agler, who’d immediately start Jackson once she’s ready to play. “Sue and Lauren are two of the better players at their position in the world and they’ve got a lot of chemistry together. They’ve been a big part of our team. It will help, no question, but our focus is the ones that are here.”
There are four other WNBA games on Tuesday.
Tulsa (3-17) is playing at Connecticut (16-5). It make look like a snooze session for the Sun. But the Eastern Conference-leading team needs to continue to rack up wins for the overall WNBA standings race. If Connecticut finishes above Minnesota (or any other contender) for the top spot, it will secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
New York (7-13) plays at Chicago (8-11) in another important game for the Sky. Chicago is aiming to advance to a franchise-first playoff appearance. Recent losses have put the Liberty hot on its tail.
The most intriguing game of the night will be San Antonio (15-5) hosting Washington (5-16). Sure the Mystics are last in the East. But the Silver Star’s franchise-best 11-game win streak can’t last forever…can it? The teams did play each other close in July, Washington losing by five at home.
The heavyweight bout is Indiana (12-7) at Los Angeles. The Sparks (16-6) have an impressive 9-1 home record and are looking to extend their win streak to seven. They’ve already strung more consecutive wins together than the Sparks have had in the past three seasons.
Indiana is no slouch. Reining MVP Tamika Catchings missed a possible game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer of a 77-74 loss against LA in Indiana. But the Fever are on a three-game winning streak. They’ve won by a combined 32 points in their first two games back from the break.
*PHOTO CREDIT: Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson tweeted (@laurenej15) an image of her participating in a national team event last week with the caption “I love Australia.”