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Originally published September 8, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Page modified September 9, 2011 at 6:59 PM

Storm can clinch No. 2 seed by beating Phoenix on Friday

Home-court advantage could be big as Seattle readies for WNBA playoffs.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Friday

Phoenix @ Seattle, 7 p.m., KONG

quotes Your in the Driver`s Seat, Storm. Defense sets up Offense.. EVERYONE,Bring Your A Game... Read more
quotes Not only do the Storm have home court tonight, but Phoenix is playing the second game... Read more

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With two regular-season games remaining, the Storm would have enjoyed a chance to coast into the postseason.

But as forward Camille Little noted, there's still some work to do before the defending WNBA champions begin the playoffs next week.

With a victory Friday against the Phoenix Mercury at KeyArena, Seattle secures the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, which guarantees home-court advantage in the first round.

That's plenty of incentive for a team that's 30-2 at home during the past two regular seasons and posted a 4-0 playoff mark at the Key en route to the 2010 title.

"It's a deciding game for home-court advantage," Little said. "It gets us over the hump with the numbers with them in our series.

"We definitely feel like we need it. Every game is important, but this really has some significance to it."

Seattle (19-13) holds a 2-1 series edge over Phoenix (19-13). The Storm won 78-71 in the season opener and had a nine-game winning streak over the Mercury before losing 81-79 last month in Phoenix.

At the time, Seattle was floundering and in danger of missing the playoffs. The loss to Phoenix was the fourth in five games as the Storm fell to 13-12.

It was also the last game Seattle played without three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, who missed 20 games due to left hip surgery.

During her absence, the Storm went 10-10, thanks in large part to All-Stars Swin Cash and Sue Bird, who is having an MVP-caliber season.

"We struggled some, (but) we're still in a pretty good position," Little said. "To be second right now and have to play half of the season without Lauren, what more can you ask for?"

Since the Phoenix defeat, Seattle is 6-1.

Part of the reason for the resurgence is the return of Jackson. She's made significant contributions despite being limited to about 20 minutes per game.

"She's not (100 percent) yet, but obviously her presence and ability makes us better," coach Brian Agler said. "The attention other teams give her makes our other players better because they have more room to operate."

It's essential that the Storm — especially Jackson — is healthy for the playoffs. She missed the 2008 playoffs with an ankle injury and sat out in 2009 with a back ailment. Seattle lost in the first round each year.

With a victory Friday, Agler might rest Jackson and other starters in Sunday's regular-season finale against Chicago.

However, Little is taking nothing for granted and dismissed the notion that Seattle is playing its best basketball of the season.

"I don't really think about that," she said. "We're winning. We finally got over the hump. We would win a couple and then lose a couple. Right now as a team we're playing pretty well, and that's what's most important."

Note

• Cash received the WNBA Cares Community Assists Award for August. The Storm forward is the spokeswoman for Race for the Cure and founder of Cash for Kids charity.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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