The Storm (11-14) had a week to prepare for a key home-and-home set against Tulsa (6-20). But Seattle coach Brian Agler said most of the work was on team chemistry.
Despite most of the players outside of rookies Shekinna Stricklen and Alysha Clark having played together in some capacity before, the veterans haven’t hit a groove for the Storm. MVP Lauren Jackson recently joined the team, C Ann Wauters (Achilles) and F Tina Thompson (knee) suffered injuries while PG Sue Bird dealt with WNBA and Olympic duties. It’s left G Tanisha Wright and F Camille Little to carry the load and Bird to go into scoring mode, averaging a team-high 13.0 points.
“We need to figure it out quick,” Bird said after a 75-68 loss to Phoenix last week. “There are only nine games until the end of the season and that’s not a lot of time.”
If Seattle were to win against Tulsa in both meetings and Phoenix (6-20) loses at Connecticut (20-7) on Friday, the Storm would clinch a WNBA-record ninth consecutive playoff berth. Yet, it would mean little if the chemistry remains off center. Not something expected when Agler pieced together another star-studded roster last spring.
“It’s not a typical season for what we’ve been through in the past,” said Wright, whose 7-6 record at KeyArena nearly matches the combined losses at home (seven) since Agler was hired in 2008.
“It’s definitely different, but we have a team of veterans so you basically have to endure and persevere,” Wright said. “We should be playing better. Hopefully we got better in these last couple of days.
“Tulsa is a good team that’s been playing really well as of late. It will be a good test to see where we are mentally. And to see if we did get better to take on that challenge to finish the season strong.”
The Shock woke the league with upsets against Atlanta and Los Angeles, going 3-2 in its past five games. The system remains helter-skelter. Tulsa forces a league-leading 18.0 turnovers, but coach Gary Kloppenburg has more talented players running his version of the system.
He also has impressive rookies in Glory Johnson and Riquna Williams who handle the defensive and offensive power between them. Williams, passed over in the draft due to issues at Miami, is averaging 10.8 points off the bench. Johnson leads the Shock in rebounds (6.9) and steals (2.3).
But Tulsa is playing its third game in four days.
The Storm defeated Tulsa 76-58 in June behind Bird’s 27 points. And 86-73 behind Bird’s 21 points on June 15. But that was before the leaguewide Olympic hiatus where the Shock had practice time to gel.
And then, the latter game ignited a Storm 5-game win streak.
Now Seattle would just take one victory.
“We’re trying to get people to improve their games, get Lauren on track,” Agler said. “Tulsa has really good talent. They’re a young team. But their youth brings out a lot of energy and enthusiasm. They’re playing extremely hard and they cause problems for people. They can beat anybody in this league.”
There are no other games around the league Thursday.