Storm gets healthy as it jockeys for home-court advantage
Lauren Jackson is back, and Seattle has its work cut out as it takes aim at No. 2 in the WNBA playoffs.
Seattle Times staff reporter
San Antonio @ Seattle, 7 p.m.
Tanisha Wright searched for an escape, finding one online.
Tending to family business after the death of her mother, Wright watched her team's fourth-quarter breakdown in an 81-79 loss at Phoenix last week. Her feelings were succinct.
"We should've won that game," Wright said.
As Seattle continues its playoff push, the Phoenix loss could end up as one to determine its fate. With Minnesota aiming to tie Seattle's historic 28-6 record from 2010, second place is the remaining slot available with home-court advantage.
A slot Phoenix (15-10) now holds.
Seeded third with eight games remaining, Seattle (14-12) hosts San Antonio (13-12) Tuesday at KeyArena. The Storm needs to win its remaining five home games — especially matchups against contending Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Antonio — to give itself the best chance of moving up in the Western Conference. Seattle plays L.A. and San Antonio twice each and Phoenix once.
"Those right now are huge games for us," said Storm point guard Sue Bird.
Seattle is 5-3 against the conference teams still vying for a playoff berth. The Storm was 1-3 against Minnesota this season, the Lynx clinching its first playoff berth since 2004 Saturday.
"There's no easy ones," said Storm coach Brian Agler.
Last season Seattle had already clinched the best record in the WNBA and was fiddling with lineups and resting stars as it finished the season on a three-game winning streak. This summer, Seattle is just starting to get healthy as it scrambles to find a groove.
Guard Katie Smith still wears a protective boot for a left Achilles injury, but with her and Lauren Jackson (hip) in the lineup Saturday, the Storm was the healthiest it has been since June. Smith, the biggest offseason acquisition, is shooting 50.8 percent from the field in August while Jackson, a three-time MVP, scored 20 in Saturday's one-point win over New York.
"The thing I felt as a coach is the depth we have," Agler said. "It felt like finally we had our people back. (In the first quarter) we showed signs of what our team can be."
Jackson, who underwent surgery June 30 to repair a labrum tear, admits she still has hip pain. She played 21 minutes before fouling out.
"Defensively is where I'm feeling it the most," Jackson said. "Moving sideways and backward and stuff. There's that thing in your brain where you think, 'I don't want anyone to come at my feet or my legs.' So that's sort of slowing me down. I don't have the range of motion that I used to have. Being able to rotate and read things defensively is a little bit difficult right now. As time goes on, I think it will get better."
Jackson's return coupled with center Ashley Robinson's improvement and rookie Ewelina Kobryn's talent gives the Storm a better post rotation to complement forwards Camille Little and Le'coe Willingham.
Smith's shooting and defense has strengthened Seattle's perimeter game.
"Just because she's back with us doesn't mean we're automatically going to win games," said Bird of Jackson. Bird (15.1 points per game) and Swin Cash (14.2) have carried Seattle.
"Obviously last year was different," Bird said. "We were kind of the top dog, and everyone expected us to win. And that brings a different kind of pressure as opposed to nobody thinking you're going to do it, losing players to injury and having them come back and dealing with all those different kinds of things. To overcome obstacles, it's a different feeling."
• The WNBA announced a multiyear deal with Boost Mobile on Monday. The cellular company is a leaguewide sponsor, placing its logo on 10 of the 12 teams' jerseys, including Seattle. Phoenix and San Antonio had conflicts with existing sponsors. Boost Mobile will have prominent signs around 10 arenas and in the future be the presenting sponsor of the playoffs, All-Star Game, draft and league's opening game.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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