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Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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WNBA Playoffs: Jackson, Burse all part of Storm clout

Seattle Times staff reporter

Storm coach Anne Donovan froze at the sight, blushing, eyes bulging. This couldn't be two-thirds of her starting frontline.

Forward Lauren Jackson and center Janell Burse breezed into the Storm's training facility Tuesday wearing the summertime staple for young women — miniskirts.

But the two had strikingly different takes on the fad.

Jackson, a native Australian who loves the beach, paired hers with flip-flops, black cutoff leggings and a white tank embellished with sparkles, her wavy blond locks tickling the wind. Burse, the known shopper on the team, extended her 6-foot-5 height with 3-inch Coach espadrilles. She also wore a black tank adorned with gold sparkles, her face framed with bone-straight, auburn-highlighted hair. Her miniskirt was worn barelegged, turning heads and surprising her often conservative coach.

"We're nothing alike," Jackson said. "If we bought the same thing, we'd wear it totally differently. We have nothing in common."

Except basketball.

There, when healthy, Jackson and Burse have been pure symmetry this season.

An unpredictable grittiness overtakes the glamorous Burse, while the bohemian-chic Jackson morphs into a competitive blaze of fire, becoming a tricky inside matchup for opponents. It was for Detroit when the pair grabbed rebounds and scored points in the waning minutes to clinch the franchise's third consecutive playoff berth on Aug. 8, and Donovan hopes it is again Friday when fourth-seeded Seattle hosts No. 1 seed Los Angeles in Game 1 of the first-round, best-of-three series.

Yet, it wasn't as easy as tossing a basketball to the duo to cultivate the harmony that has Burse feeding Jackson inside for layins or Jackson looking for Burse around the free-throw line for open jump shots because Jackson is smothered in a double-team.

"At first I thought she was mean," Burse said.

"I am mean," Jackson said.

"I didn't know how we'd play together," Burse continued. "But I quickly found out that LJ is really nice and laidback and fun. And she helps everyone be a better player."

Burse was the mystery piece to the April 2004 trade with Minnesota that Donovan wanted, along with forward Sheri Sam, in exchange for forward Amanda Lassiter and the No. 6 pick in that summer's draft.

Critics questioned the move because Kansas State star Nicole Ohlde was the selection at the sixth slot, and to some the 6-foot-5 center appeared the better project for Donovan, a former Olympic center.

Donovan insisted on Burse and wouldn't make the trade without her.

"Janell was a little reluctant to leave Minnesota because she had finally earned that starting role," Donovan said of Burse, who averaged 11.9 points and 6.2 rebounds as a starter in the Lynx's final 14 games in 2003. "When she came here behind [former center] Kamila [Vodichkova], there was somewhat of a reluctance on her part to have to prove herself all over again."

Burse had to wait until 2005 to break into the starting rotation with Seattle, when Vodichkova left via free agency for Phoenix. It wasn't until Burse took the advice of coaches after the season that she developed the type of game that would complement Jackson, however.

Burse traveled to Prague, Czech Republic, for offseason play once the Storm was bounced from the postseason by Houston in the opening round last year. She spent endless time working on her outside shooting and even became an All-Star in the European league.

Although Burse, upon her return, missed seven games due to a small labrum tear in her left shoulder sustained on her final day overseas, she finished the WNBA regular season ranked sixth in the league in field-goal percentage (51.1), averaging career bests in points (11.1) and rebounds (6.6). According to Donovan and Jackson, that allowed the Aussie to remain productive in limited minutes to temper injures in her left shin and foot, averaging a team-leading 19.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in a career-low 28.5 minutes.

"Fortunately, JB came back with the range that we'd hoped she would come back with," Donovan said. "Because without that high-post range or the ability to step out to 16 feet ... We knew we were going to deal with Lauren's [injuries], so JB coming back with that range did help soften the blow a little bit."

A working friendship developed over time and crystallized this summer.

The post players are giggly in practice, lightening Donovan's rants by holding onto each other and laughing under their breath. They tease each other about their different styles in clothes or music. And they compare tidbits about the one other thing they have in common — handbags.

"We've played together for three years now, so that made us more comfortable," Burse said. "And I've found out some different things about LJ."

Such as?

"She knows a lot about hair weaves," Burse said. "You wouldn't expect that."

Sparks center Lisa Leslie was the first to teach Jackson about such a thing when Jackson accidentally pulled Leslie's ponytail out during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. It's an inescapable story line when the two play each other but, as Jackson noted, Leslie doesn't play defense on her, so it can't be a sole focus to the series.

"It's just two great players playing against each other," Jackson said. "If we got to guard each other the whole time, that would be fun."

Under coach Joe Bryant, the Sparks like to flank Leslie, who is 6-5, with three other big bodies in Jessica Moore (6-3), Christi Thomas (6-3) and Murriel Page (6-2).

The Storm was able to neutralize the tactic in two of the three regular-season games, getting 23 points from Jackson in the season-opening win as Burse sat on the bench in street clothes because of the aggravated shoulder. In a June game at the Staples Center, Burse drew Leslie into fouling out as the Storm collected a rare win in Los Angeles.

Friday will be the first time this season Burse and Jackson suit up together to play against the Sparks.

"They complement each other," said teammate Ashley Robinson, a 6-5 center who was excited to be traded from the expansion Chicago Sky in June because of the opportunity to play with Jackson and Burse. "Lauren and JB can bang on the block, but if Lauren is banging on the blocks, then JB can hit the high-post jumper. If JB is banging on the blocks, Lauren can stretch out the defense with the three and they have to guard her. They're both killers. They have their own game and their own style."

Even in miniskirts.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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