As playoffs begin, Storm healthy but still a bit unsure
Seattle has very little experience this season playing its top players together
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle @ Minnesota,
6 p.m., ESPN2
MINNEAPOLIS — Gathered at the final practice on the eve of the WNBA best-of-three first-round playoff series, no one connected with the Storm could answer a simple question: Can fourth-seeded Seattle upset overall top-seed Minnesota?
"I have no idea how good we are," Storm coach Brian Agler said with eyebrows raised, arms flapping as if juggling balls.
This time Agler isn't being coy. His team has played as a full unit five times in a 34-game regular season, going 3-2 in those matchups, 16-18 overall. Two victories were against the league's third-worst team in Tulsa (9-25). And Agler's biggest asset, 6-foot-6 center Lauren Jackson, has played in only nine WNBA games due to commitments to the Australian Olympic team and a hamstring injury.
"We've shown signs of playing at a high level in the games that we've been together and practices," Agler said. "But because of the lack of that, we (coaching staff) also can see that, boy, at times they don't play up to their talent potential. That's because of the lack of continuity playing together. So, sometimes we look really, really good and sometimes we look average."
Not encouraging considering Minnesota hasn't dropped off in talent from the franchise's first championship in 2011.
The Lynx finished with a league-best 27-7 record for the second consecutive season. Second-year wing Maya Moore seemingly kicked her game out of the stratosphere since winning her first Olympic gold medal in August, averaging 18.5 points and 7.4 rebounds since the break.
Still, Jackson smiles in anticipation of Game 1 on Friday at the Target Center. She didn't play in any of her team's four games against the Lynx this season.
"I'm excited," Jackson said. "It is mind-boggling. The more I look at their lineup, I'm like, 'Damn, they can all play.' That's the awesome thing. We can, too. We have capabilities beyond what people expect, and we can definitely cause a little bit of an upset. But we have to be playing our best basketball."
You need a magnifying glass in order to pinpoint when Seattle has played its best basketball this year. The team started 1-7. Later, it stitched together a five-game winning streak.
This playoff series is a matchup of the WNBA's past two champions.
Seattle now is making a WNBA-record ninth consecutive playoff appearance with players who've achieved enough gaudy accomplishments they should be blinded by their bling.
Except for one fact, paper doesn't glimmer. So, the question remains, can the best star-studded roster Agler has assembled actually win a series against Minnesota?
"Everybody on this team has probably played a position that they've either never played before in their life or have played very little throughout their career," Tina Thompson said about the advantages of players missing 30 games due to injuries. "(Now) that we're all together, hopefully we'll be ready."
Seattle was 1-3 against Minnesota this season. The June victory was one glimpse of Agler's "high level" of play. The Storm staved off a comeback by the Lynx with point guard Sue Bird nailing five three-pointers and Thompson snatching critical rebounds and sinking two free throws in the final seconds to save a 65-62 home victory.
But the rhythm didn't continue. The Olympic break, injuries, roster moves and the return of Jackson made for a staccato finish where no one has seen the Storm's potential headed into the postseason.
"It doesn't make me scared," Storm guard Tanisha Wright said. "We have enough veterans that have played in these pressure situations. It's just nice that we finally do have everybody and we can make a playoff push together. I'm really excited."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org