Tuesday, July 31, 2007

LJ MRI Negative

The results of the MRI on Lauren Jackson's right knee are in and are negative, which is a positive.

The swelling in Jackson's knee is still a concern, but in the wake of all the discussion of injuries yesterday and today, it's worth remembering something Donovan made sure to point out: "Everybody's got something this time of year, Seattle and other teams."

Monday, July 30, 2007

MRI for LJ; JB Still Day-to-Day

Plenty of news at Monday's afternoon's relatively light practice session.

- Lauren Jackson sat out the practice and will undergo an MRI on her troublesome right knee.

"Her knee's been bothering her for quite a while, so it's a concern," said Storm Head Coach Anne Donovan. "Everybody's got something this year, Seattle and other teams."

Jackson has been experiencing swelling in the back of the knee. The winner of her record-tying fourth Western Conference Player of the Week award, Jackson should know the results of the MRI tomorrow.

- We got an update from Janell Burse on her condition. As we've been reporting, because there is no real potential for further damage, the key is how painful Burse's left wrist becomes.

"If I can just keep my level of pain under control, hopefully I'll be able to play with it a little bit, but every day that goes it gets a little bit more sore," she said. "Hopefully I can get a little rest with it when I can and play with it."

Apparently the pain isn't quite as bad during games as it is afterwards and off the court. Burse alluded to being woken up during the night by throbbing in her wrist. It will be hard for her to deal with that for an extended period.

"I'm a basketball player, but I'm a person first," said Burse. "I can only deal with so much as far as pain level goes and how comfortable or uncomfortable I am. Hopefully in these next few days until the end of the season, I can try to do things that make me more comfortable where I'm not in as much pain as I am right now."

Aside from rest and playing through the pain, Burse's other options would be putting the wrist in a hard cast to promote healing or having surgery. Surgery would require a 4-6-week recovery and certainly end her season; she wasn't sure of the timeline with a hard cast, but it probably would be a quicker timeframe than surgery.

- As you may have seen, Doneeka Lewis has been signed for the remainder of the season after the conclusion of her second seven-day contract. WNBA teams can only sign a player to two seven-day contracts.

"She gives us flexibility," Donovan said. "Should something happen to Sue, T or Betty, she gives us a strong, athletic guard that can step in there."

- Betty Lennox did not practice, with Donovan opting to give her a day of rest due to fatigue.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

LJ Gets 4,000, Storm Gets Win

The Storm locker room was upbeat after tonight's win, and with good reason. Back at home, the Storm played an outstanding three quarters of basketball and coasted to a win on a night that will best be remembered for Lauren Jackson's 4,000th career point.

Talking to Jackson after the game, she again downplayed the importance of the individual accolades but did say she was glad to hit 4,000 in front of the home fans at KeyArena. Jackson has reached 1,000, 3,000 and now 4,000 in Seattle and I'm sure a lot of fans, like me, have seen all three milestones.

If you haven't already, make sure to check out the page we put together honoring Jackson's accomplishment.

Janell Burse talked after the game about her wrist. Beforehand, she had said she would try to get through the game and then reevaluate whether she can play despite three torn ligaments in the wrist. I asked her whether she thought after the game she could play onwards and she still wasn't sure, explaining that at times the pain was not as noticeable but at other times it became severe.

Anne Donovan gave Burse credit for starting the Storm off well at the defensive end with a couple of early blocks, and I have to agree - I might have given Burse short shift by not making a bigger deal of the early swats in Live From Press Row.

Did you know? With tonight's win and L.A.'s loss, the Storm's magic number for clinching a playoff berth is just six. More pertinent, in all likelihood, is the battle for playoff positioning. Phoenix pulled out a close game at Chicago thanks to Diana Taurasi's game-winner, leaving the Storm two games back of the Mercury and Sacramento, tied for second place. The Silver Stars continue to lead the West entering Sunday's game at KeyArena, up three games on the Storm.

Injuries to Tamika Catchings and Cheryl Ford have muddled the Eastern Conference picture a little. While Detroit and Indiana are still comfortably in first and second, respectively, it's not inconceivable that the hot Connecticut Sun could sneak into second in the East if Catchings is out a couple more weeks.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Back at Home

It felt strange to see a Seattle Storm practice. It felt strange to see the Storm in person. The last practice I attended was July 2. The next night, the Storm beat Los Angeles at KeyArena. A day later, the team flew to Houston to start a three-game road trip. By the time the Storm was back at home - for just one game and no practices - I was in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League. Then came the All-Star break and another four-game Storm road trip.

Add it up and it has been over three weeks since I'd seen the Storm.

The talk of the day, naturally, was Lauren Jackson - looking backwards at her 47-point effort on Tuesday in Washington and forwards to her reaching 4,000 career points, which could come as soon as tomorrow night. As long-time Storm fans are aware, Jackson doesn't play the game for those kind of individual accolades. She noted that despite her big game, she was unhappy in Washington because the team fell short. We've known LJ long enough to know that isn't something she says for the benefit of the media.

Jackson practiced for about an hour during a lengthy Storm session, then got some rest on the sidelines. She isn't particularly concerned about her right knee, which began to trouble her with some swelling just before the All-Star break. Jackson explained that in Sunday's game at New York, when she left the game in obvious pain after a fall, it was because she had ruptured the bursa sac in her knee, different from the swelling she has experienced.

Janell Burse practiced regularly with her left wrist wrapped to protect it. Coach Anne Donovan said Burse looked good on the floor. She's got an MRI on the wrist scheduled for tonight and, barring some problem with the results of the MRI, is expected to play against Indiana.

In other news: If you haven't already, check out Maurice Brooks' most recent "Race to the MVP" column in which he all but hands the award to Jackson.

"The gap in the Race to the MVP between Seattle's Lauren Jackson and the rest of the field was already huge," wrote Brooks.

"After LJ's performance on Tuesday night, the only thing left to do is make sure they spell her name correctly on the trophy."

Then there's also this little comment:

"Jackson is the greatest female basketball player to ever live. There, I said it. I dare you to prove me wrong. "

WNBA.com also took the Storm's trip East as an opportunity to ask fan-generated questions of Donovan, Jackson, Sue Bird and Iziane Castro Marques. Of course, you always have the opportunity to "E-mail the Storm" via storm.wnba.com and the 1150 AM KKNW broadcasts.

If you've still got more time to spend on WNBA.com, Sue Bird updated her half of the Bird and Dee Blog with a special LJ guest appearance.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No Break for Burse

Jayda Evans of the Seattle Times blogged this morning that Janell Burse feared she may have broken her wrist and was headed for X-rays today. The Storm got good news when they came back negative. Pending an MRI, the preliminary diagnosis is a sprained left wrist.

The Storm took today off from practice. We'll probably know more when they return to the court at The Furtado Center tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The San Antonio Silver Stars and Seattle Storm, both playing on the road, both went into overtime tonight. The Silver Stars beat Indiana by eight; as you surely know, the Storm lost by one to Washington.

Tonight's results moved San Antonio, which leads the Western Conference, four games ahead of the fourth-place Storm. The Silver Stars have outscored their opponents by 47 points in 22 games for a +2.1 differential. The Storm has outscored opponents by 68 points in 24 games, a +2.7 differential.

San Antonio is now an insane 9-1 in games decided by single-digits. The Storm is 1-5, the only win coming Sunday when Sue Bird's three beat New York.


Lauren Jackson's unbelievable effort tonight qualifies as happier news, despite the outcome. I wrote extensively about the performance in my game recap, which also includes the other top single-game scoring efforts in WNBA history. If we discounted overtimes, Jackson (who had 41 points through regulation) would presumably rank tied for third in WNBA history. Cynthia Cooper has the best two scoring efforts in league history that haven't involved overtime.

Did you notice that virtually all of the 40-point games the WNBA has seen have been by players on the visiting team?

Because of the early start time, I listened to tonight's game in the office with my co-workers, and there was some scrambling of plans as Jackson's points piled up. She entered the game 61 shy of 4,000 in her WNBA career, and we were figuring that meant she would likely need three games to hit 4,000. I downplayed the possibility of Jackson getting there in two games as recently as this afternoon. By the end of the regulation, I was wondering if she might hit 4,000 by the time the game ended.

If you do the math, Jackson now has 3,986 career points, leaving her 14 away from 4,000. She stands an excellent chance of reaching 4,000, so I hope if you don't already have tickets you're planning to get them and join us as the Storm celebrates Women of Inspiration in the Seattle community - and one very inspiring woman wearing a No. 15 jersey.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tully Feature

Graham Hays has a neat story on ESPN.com about the improbable path that led former Storm guard Tully Bevilaqua to become the starting point guard for one of the favorites to win the WNBA Championship.

Perhaps Tully Bevilaqua's globe-traversing odyssey through the world of women's professional basketball isn't that terminus on the axis of oddity, but the Indiana Fever point guard neatly summed up just how improbable all that was to come would have seemed if presented as prophecy to her younger self.

"I probably would have said, 'Oh bugger off, you're telling some porkie pies,' " Bevilaqua laughed.

Sometimes stranger things haven't happened.
Hays doesn't even touch on something those outside the Storm camp might not be familiar with - Bevilaqua was close to hanging them up after winning the championship in Seattle in 2004. One of my first questions for Bevilaqua as the Storm was conducting exit interviews two days after the win over Connecticut was whether she planned to return.

Now, Bevilaqua is in her third year as a starter with the Fever, having been named to the All-Defensive First Team each of the last two years, and she's got another year after this on her deal.

Bevilaqua might just add another championship ring, but that task got more difficult with yesterday's news that Tamika Catchings will miss 2-3 weeks with a partial tear of her left plantar fascia. Without Catchings, the Fever lost to Chicago last night, allowing Detroit to reclaim first place in the Eastern Conference in the all-important battle for home-court advantage in the probable East Finals matchup.

In that game, the Sky got a big boost from guard Jia Perkins, who scored 17 points off the bench in 25 minutes. Perkins has been incredible for Chicago over the last 10 games, averaging 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 54.3% from the field and nearly 60% from downtown.

That makes me think of Chandi Jones. Like Perkins a scoring tweener guard taken in the 2004 Draft, Jones was the comparison I used for Perkins a couple of years ago to explain why the Sky got a steal in the Expansion Draft. While Perkins is now making good on that potential, Jones is out of the league after being cut by Minnesota in training camp. You never know the path young players will take in their development, but it saddens me that Jones' career has fallen off a cliff since she was the centerpiece of the Lynx's deal for Katie Smith.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Defensive 180

A little less than a month ago, when explanations were being thrown around for why the Storm was under .500 (5-6 on June 22), I thought one reason was conspicuous in its absence from the discussion: defense.

When the Storm fell to the Minnesota Lynx on the 22nd, its Defensive Rating stood at 102.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, ranking the Storm near the bottom of the league on D. 10 games later, the Storm has gone 6-4 despite playing without All-Star Sue Bird for half of those games and the team's Defensive Rating now stands at 96.8, good for sixth in the WNBA.

This improvement may make more sense graphically. The following chart shows the Storm's season-to-date Defensive Rating for each game this year (the black bar is 98.2, which is league average).

Starting with the Storm's June 24 win at L.A., the team's Defensive Rating has been falling at a pretty consistent rate.

The difference between the Storm's defense over the first 11 games and the last 10 becomes even more dramatic when you compare the two periods as a whole.

I looked at Defensive Rating as well as Dean Oliver's "Four Factors of Basketball Success," which break defense (or offense) down to its base components: shooting (measured by effective field-goal percentage, which values a three as 1.5 field goals), rebounding (measured by defensive rebound percentage), turnover (measured by percentage of possessions that end in turnovers) and free-throw (measured by free-throw attempts per field-goal attempts).

Period      DRtg  eFG%   DR%   TO%  FT/FG
First 11 102.3 .529 .723 .160 .228
Last 10 90.8 .483 .752 .180 .207

Over the last ten games, Seattle's defense has played as well as anyone in the WNBA (Indiana, at 90.0, leads the WNBA in Defensive Rating; 90.8 would rank second in the league). The improvement has come across the board - the Storm has cut down its shooting percentage allowed, is grabbing more rebounds, forcing more turnovers and allowing less free throws. Wow.

(Aside: I didn't realize until looking at these numbers that the Storm is the best team in the league at keeping opponents off the free-throw line.)

Now you might immediately raise an objection: Hasn't the Storm's schedule been relatively easy over the last 10 games? Indeed so, and it would be hard to argue that three games against the Holdsclaw-less Sparks haven't helped. Still, the Storm's opponents have had an average Offensive Rating of 96.3 - not a big drop from the 98.0 the Storm's schedule averaged over the first 11 games, and still well above what these teams have done against the Storm.

What's really surprising is that there isn't an obvious explanation for the change. Shyra Ely entered the rotation right about the start of the 10-game stretch, and Ely's length has been an asset on defense. However, Ely is only playing 17.8 minutes per game over the last 10 games. The improvement is way bigger than her.

Throughout training camp and the early part of the season, Anne Donovan kept hammering home the importance of continual defensive improvement. It took a while for that to have an impact on the court, but the Storm seems to have gotten locked in defensively - and moved up the standings in the process.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

LJ in SI

Lauren Jackson is featured in a profile in this week's Sports Illustrated by Kelli Anderson. While the general theme - How Lauren Got Her Groove Back - should be familiar to Storm fans, there are still some very interesting tidbits.

She still has two fractures in her left shin. "I don't know if she got used to the pain or what," says Storm trainer Kyla McDaniel, "but she hasn't complained."

"I still have days," says Jackson, "but as long as the fractures aren't getting any worse, I'm not going to let them hold me back anymore. After last season I decided I was either going to play all out in the off-season or not at all. A little practice here, a little practice there was driving me crazy. I couldn't get in a groove."

Go give it a read if you haven't already.

WNBA Stats Update

I had hoped to do an update on league stats as of the All-Star break, but things got a little hectic the last couple of days so I'll have to settle for one game into the second half of the season. With no further ado, the numbers (explanations):


Team        ORating
Phoenix 103.4
Seattle 103.3
Indiana 101.7
Detroit 100.1
Connnecticut 99.5
Washington 98.1
San Antonio 97.6
Sacramento 96.7
Minnesota 96.7
Chicago 96.2
Houston 95.4
Los Angeles 94.3
New York 92.8
Last night's win was just enough to sneak the Mercury ahead of the Storm's as the league's best offense. The Shock and Sun have both surged forward, meaning there isn't the huge gap between third and fourth place we used to see. San Antonio has already jumped forward, though a lot of that can be credited to Erin Buescher - now lost for the season with a torn ACL.

A team going up also means a team going the opposite direction, and in this case L.A. is the team falling off a cliff. We all know why the Sparks have struggled with Lisa Leslie out and Chamique Holdsclaw having suddenly retired, but the magnitude of that drop-off is pretty incredible. Here is the trend over the various times I've calculated L.A.'s Offensive Rating:

June 18: 104.6 (second in the WNBA)
June 24: 101.9 (rank N/A)
July 3: 97.9 (fourth)
July 10: 96.9 (N/A)
July 17: 94.3 (12th)

Updating it about weekly, that's a precipitous decline of 10 spots and 10 points per 100 possessions.


Team        DRating
Indiana 90.0
Sacramento 91.8
Detroit 93.0
New York 95.5
San Antonio 95.6
Seattle 96.7
Connecticut 99.2
Phoenix 100.5
Washington 100.7
Los Angeles 100.9
Chicago 101.4
Houston 103.7
Minnesota 105.8
Not a lot of big moves in the defensive rankings. The only team to change more than a spot was Chicago, which has dipped to 11th in Defensive Rating. The Sky's offense isn't good enough to make the playoffs without improved D.


Again, the standings based on expected wins (as calculated from point differential):

WEST          ExpW   EAST          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
Seattle 21.5 Indiana 26.4
Sacramento 21.0 Detroit 23.4
Phoenix 18.9 Connecticut 17.1
San Antonio 18.8 Washington 14.8
Los Angeles 11.7 New York 14.2
Minnesota 11.1 Chicago 12.7
Houston 10.3
On the strength of a few recent blowout wins, the Storm actually has the best point differential in the Western Conference. That's not always a guarantee of anything - the Storm also had the best differential in the West in 2003, but finished out of the playoffs - but still a good sign. Even if the Silver Stars were healthy, I might predict a fall. Given Buescher's injury, I'm not sure they can hang on to first place in the West.

The East standings look very different after Indiana and Detroit when differential is used instead of actual record. New York is really third, a full two games up on Washington, but the Mystics have been surging and have the superior point differential. This is one to watch down the stretch.

Same Script, Different Game

Anyone else notice the similarities between last night's loss to Phoenix and the Storm's June 13 defeat in Indiana?

Both times, the Storm started off shooting the ball well. After a timeout, the Storm struggled against the zone and the home team took control. The Storm kept closer against the Mercury, and there wasn't one player who was as hot for the Fever as Phoenix forward Penny Taylor, but it's an interesting parallel.

Usually I am not a believer in the analysis that points toward one factor as the reason why a game is won or lost. Take, for example, the Storm's loss at Sacramento earlier this year where the Monarchs controlled the offensive glass. Well, that probably would have been different had the Storm not been in the zone, but that same zone was also responsible for Sacramento's poor shooting. Ultimately, it seemed like a wash.

That being said, I'm surprised that rebounding wasn't considered to be a bigger factor in last night's game. All the keys were there for a big night on the offensive glass for the Storm - the team shot poorly, Phoenix is the league's worst defensive rebounding team and the Mercury played a zone (harder to rebound out of). Given all that, Phoenix did an excellent job of keeping the Storm off the offensive boards, especially in the first half.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lewis Scouting Report

When the e-mail showed up in my inbox saying, "Storm signs Lewis," I was perplexed for a minute. That's because I remember the new Storm guard as first Doneeka Hodges, then Doneeka Hodges-Lewis. Apparently she's dropped her family name (shared by her twin sister, Comets guard Roneeka) after being waived by the Sparks during training camp.

It seems some other people are perplexed as well, because they view Hodges-Lewis as a shooting guard, instead of a point guard like Shona Thorburn (who was not retained after her seven-day contract).

I suppose I understand why that is - Lewis played shooting guard at LSU and it may, in some sense, be her "natural" position. However, she basically exclusively played point guard her last two seasons in L.A. and generally played it awfully well.

Lest this be seen as revisionist history, I dug up the scouting report I wrote about Lewis prior to last year's playoff series between the Storm and the Sparks:

Lewis might be the only Sparks player who misses departed Coach Henry Bibby. Bibby's style emphasized spotting up on the perimeter for L.A.'s point guards, and that played perfectly to Lewis' shooting ability, to the point where she was more effective than (Nikki) Teasley at times in 2005. This year, Lewis has had a more difficult time of it, seeing her three-point percentage plummet from 44.4% to 29.5%. Still, she's a solid backup at the point despite converting from shooting guard - she played alongside (Temeka) Johnson for her final three years while at LSU - and doesn't make a lot of mistakes. The Sparks don't really see much drop-off when Lewis is at the point, and that's a high compliment.

Lewis averaged 5.8 assists per 40 minutes last season. By comaprison, Sue Bird averaged 6.1. Ticha Penicheiro averaged 5.5 and Dawn Staley 5.2.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

All-Star Thoughts

In what will be remembered as the most competitive WNBA All-Star Game to date - and maybe the most competitive I can remember in any sport - the East held off a furious challenge by the West to win 103-99. It would have been interesting to see what might have happened if the West had called timeout on its fractured final possession, which ended with Tina Thompson forcing an off-balance shot.

There was no shortage of contenders for MVP honors, which went to Cheryl Ford. Tamika Catchings was another strong contender with 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, while Katie Douglas led the victorious East with 18 points on efficient 6-of-8 shooting.

Lauren Jackson was part of a West attack that pitched in 17 three-pointers in an incomprehensible 46 attempts. Jackson was 4-for-7 from downtown and scored 14 points, grabbing five rebounds.

Earlier on, Betty Lennox competed in the Dribble, Dish and Swish Challenge.

"Lennox ... struggled with the chest pass and the outlet pass, needing three and four tries, respectively, to complete each pass," reported WNBA.com's Brian Martin. She finished the course in 40 seconds flat."

That ended up putting Lennox in fourth place, less than a second behind Washington's Nikki Teasley (39.4 seconds).

By the way, I wanted to throw in a comment on Anna DeForge. Her selection as a starter in the East was widely-questioned, but I felt good for DeForge even before she hit the big shot in the final minute. Why? In 2004, DeForge had an All-Star-caliber season, but there was no All-Star Game that year because of the Olympics. (DeForge was picked for the team of WNBA stars that played the U.S. Olympic Team in The Game at Radio City, a de facto All-Star Game of sorts.)

There were only two players on that team who had, before this season, not made an All-Star team: DeForge and Allison Feaster. It doesn't look like Feaster will get another shot. She's 31 and out of the league this season. Honestly, however, Feaster didn't belong in the All-Star Game that year. DeForge did. She deserves to be considered an All-Star player and now the annals of history will so record her.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Final score: Sun 76, Storm 63

This is typical of how the game went today: the Storm played a tough defensive series with just under three minutes remaining, but Evanthia Maltsi hit a off-balance runner as the shot clock expired to give the Sun a 74-59 lead.

One more example, again with the shot clock winding down: Sun forward Asjha Jones hit a running right-handed hook shot over Lauren Jackson with 2:10 to play.

Tough sequence

Following the timeout, the Storm cut the lead to seven on a basket by Janell Burse that got the crowd back into the game. Burse followed that with a big defensive play at the other end, blocking a shot in the paint that triggered a fastbreak.

However, the Sun recovered and forced a turnover. Instead of a five-point game, the Sun made it an 11-point spread with layups by Lindsay Whalen and Katie Douglas. Score: Sun 68, Storm 57. Timeout Storm.

Fourth quarter under way

Anne Donovan has called a timeout with 6:03 remaining in the game and the Storm down 64-55. Every time the Storm threatens to make it a nail-biter, the Sun answers. Leading the charge for the visitors is Katie Douglas, who been a defensive presence and has hit a series of big shots today.

Third quarter: Sun 61, Storm 51

The Storm pulled within three points, but Nykesha Sales made sure the Sun stayed in control. The versatile guard scored nine of her 15 points in the quarter.

The Storm thought it had cut the Sun's lead to seven heading into the final quarter on a 3-point shot by Iziane Castro Marques, but the officials ruled the ball was released after the buzzer.

Crucial time

Storm starters Lauren Jackson and Betty Lennox are taking a breather at the 4:16 mark with the Storm down 49-44.

The two have combined for 28 points (Jackson 16, Lennox 12) and 12 rebounds (Jackson four, Lennox eight).

A jumper by Wendy Palmer pulled the Storm to within three, but Nykesha Sales answered to push the lead back to five.

Third quarter under way

The pace of the game has picked up considerably. Katie Douglas opened the second half with a jumper and answered two free throws by Iziane Castro Marques with an extra-long 3-pointer to give the Sun its biggest lead of the game (13 points) at 47-34.

Lauren Jackson has seen enough. Following a 15-foot jumper from teammate Janell Burse, the Storm All-Star went to work inside, scoring on a nice turnaround move under the basket and following that with a tough shot over two defenders to pull the Storm with seven at 49-42.

The Storm isn't going to let this game get away. Betty Lennox just scored on a hard drive to the basket at the 5:26 mark to make it 49-44, but missed the chance to make it a 3-point play by missing the free throw. It was her first miss in 34 attempts.

Halftime: Sun 42, Storm 32

Positive signs are showing for the Storm. Coming out of the timeout, Izi drained a 3-pointer and displayed the look of, "Finally!"

But Margo Dydek in answering every big shot with one of her own. The 7-foot-2 center is bringing the Storm defense to her by knocking down 15-foot jumpers. In turn, the lane is open for driving guard Lindsay Whalen.

The Storm pulled within seven points at 37-30, but a drive by Whalen and 3-pointer from Kristen Rasmussen pushed the Sun's lead back to double digits. Betty Lennox closed the half with a baseline jumper with 3.5 seconds remaining before halftime.

Tired legs?

The Storm appears tired, the result of playing just 24 hours earlier in Los Angeles. The Storm did not arrive in town until 10:30 p.m. last night; factor in time to get home, unpack and unwind ... well, you get the idea. The Sun, meanwhile, have been in Seattle since Monday, waiting to play this game. And it shows.

Seattle has scored just five points in the quarter. Oh, one other sign: Sue Bird is in street clothes on the Storm bench, recovering from knee surgery.

With 2:53 to play in the half, Connecticut leads 33-21.

Second quarter action

Anne Donovan has taken her second timeout of the game following the Storm's slow start to the qaurter -- three points in just under three minutes.

Meanwhile, Nykesha Sales and Le'Coe Willingham are leading the Sun. Sales scored back-to-back buckets in the paint and Willingham scored from outside to push its lead to 26-17. The lead grew to 11 on a basket Kristen Rasmussen.

Consecutive baskets by Betty Lennox (outside) and Lauren Jackson (inside) have pulled the Storm to within 28-21.

First quarter: Sun 20, Storm 14

The Storm went on a strong 8-2 run to take its first lead since Izi's basket at 7:56. Guard Tanisha Wright put the Storm in front 12-10 on a beautiful defensive play, stealing the ball at the top of the Sun's key and driving down court for a contested layup.

The Storm would score only one more basket in the quarter.

The Sun went to work down low with Dydek and outside with Lindsay Whalen. Connecticut closed the quarter on a 10-2 run.

Statistically speaking: Lauren Jackson had two blocks in the quarter; Betty Lennox led the Storm with six points and five rebounds.

First quarter under way

The game is off to a fast pace. Betty Lennox scored the game's first basket on a baseline drive at the 9:23 mark, giving the Storm a 2-0 lead. The basket was followed by a nice defensive play by Lauren Jackson, who rejected a shot by the Sun's 7-foot-2 center Margo Dydek.

The Sun's Nykesha Sales evened the game on a fadeaway bank shot to beat the shot clock, but the Storm continues to struggle from outside. Iziane Castro Marques scored on a strong drive through traffic, but it's been as Connecticut since. Make that, all Katie Douglas. The Sun forward made four consecutive free throws and scored on a 17-foot baseline jumper before Storm coach Anne Donovan had seen enough and called her first timeout at the 5:25 mark.

Live at the Key

We are less than five minutes away from tipoff, and KeyArena is bustling. It's Kids Day, and the arena is full of colorful T-Shirts, thundersticks, mascots and excitement.

The only thing missing is storm.wnba.com beat writer Kevin Pelton, who is on assignment in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hoskins on Comeback Trail

Brandie Hoskins, the Storm's third-round pick this April who will miss the entire 2007 season because of a torn Achilles tendon, is working her way back. The Dayton Daily News covered Hoskins' trip back home to speak to area prep prospects along with former Minnesota guard Megan Duffy.

"I'm going to be doing some workouts in the pool," Hoskins told the paper. "But no swimming — I can't swim. Just balance exercises."

Hoskins is expected to return to the court near the end of the year and plans to play overseas before joining the Storm for 2008 training camp.

Hat tip to the RebKell board.

The Case for Betty

LAS VEGAS - I'm sitting outside a Sonics practice at the Athletes' Performance facility in Las Vegas, listening to the online webcast of the Storm's game against the Los Angeles Sparks. Isn't the Internet grand?

Somewhere in Seattle, Sue Bird is also tuned in via storm.wnba.com, as she blogged about in the latest installment of the Bird and Dee Blog at WNBA.com:

So far since I have been away, I have been IMing, texting, calling and emailing
my teammates and coaches as much as I can. I am so used to being a part of a
team, and then to not be there, I have FOMS. Fear of missing something. It's a
serious case. I want to be a part of everything. Tanisha Wright has been doing a
great job of recapping everything. Unfortunately we haven't been on NBA TV so I
had to listen on the internet via radio webcast (which is awesome, by the way).
Thanks to Adia Barnes and Alan Horton. It's interesting to listen and be a fan.
I'm living and dying on every possession. I'm just glad I can follow it. It's
like what you had to do during your time off ... of course, neither of these
times have been our choice.
The Storm closes out the first half of the 2007 season with tomorrow's Kids Day against Connecticut. I hope you've got your tickets for that one. Regretfully, I won't be there. It's the first Storm game at KeyArena I've missed since July 2004 and only the second since I first started following the Storm in 2002. The good thing is the Storm only plays that one home game while I'm in Vegas, and the rest of our coverage should be uninterrupted.

My real point in posting today, however, is to discuss All-Star reserves, which were announced yesterday. Janell Burse did not make it at center, with coaches opting to reward the veteran experience of six-time All-Star Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

For the most part, it looks like the coaches did a good job. The names getting thrown out as "snubs" - a word I hate because it is so overused - don't look like terrible mistakes to me.

The All-Star roster is not yet complete. WNBA President Donna Orender will name a replacement for Bird, who will miss the game after her knee surgery. I'll humbly submit my contention that replacement should be Bird's backcourt-mate, Betty Lennox.

If you look at PER numbers for the WNBA, the top players not to be selected for the All-Star Game were:

1. Cheryl Ford, 22.9 (thanks pilight ... of course she was a starter)
1. Erin Buescher, 21.8
2. Betty Lennox, 20.4
3. Nicole Powell, 19.8
4. Sophia Young, 19.8
5. Monique Currie, 19.8

Amongst the West guards who have not been selected, Lennox is the leader in scoring (12.5 ppg), third in rebounding (4.5 rpg) and fourth in assists. She's even second in True Shooting Percentage despite her reputation as an inefficient scorer. Part of that is Lennox is shooting a cool 93.5% from the free-throw line, good for third in the WNBA.

Even when she has not shot the ball well this season, Lennox has contributed with her rebounding, her passing and her ability to get to the charity stripe. Though this is not her most spectacular season since joining the Storm, I think it's been her best (so far). Lennox always seems to be on the cusp of making the All-Star team. This is the year she deserves to make it.

UPDATE: My argument fell on deaf ears at the league office. Sacramento's Kara Lawson has been selected to replace Bird.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Great Win

The Storm had lost 12 times in 13 regular-season visits to Houston. The Storm was without starting point guard Sue Bird. With Bird, the Storm lost at Houston eight days ago. It all added up to a loss tonight at the Toyota Center.


Instead, the Storm controlled most of this game and took care of business in the second half for a 71-55 win over the Houston Comets.

Lots of kudos tonight. Lauren Jackson was, of course, brilliant. Jackson was two points shy of another 30-point effort, but shot 11-for-17 from the field and grabbed 13 rebounds despite occasionally facing a box-and-one defense. (That reminds me of how New York Coach Pat Coyle joked before Sunday's game she would defend Jackson: A box-and-one with the box on LJ.)

Betty Lennox was outstanding, hitting four three-pointers, and Iziane Castro Marques hit two to supply the needed outside shooting. Wendy Palmer gave big minutes off the bench, putting up six points and six boards in 15 minutes.

Still, I think Alan and Adia were right to bring Tanisha Wright over for their postgame interview on 1150 AM KKNW. Starting in place of Sue Bird, Wright wasn't perfect - as she pointed out afterwards, her five turnovers were too many, though tempered by the presence of pesky Crystal Smith - but she gave the Storm everything you could ask for. Wright had some big offensive boards and a big steal, handed out five assists and scored eight points. The Storm can win with play like that.

The only disappointment - and there isn't one, really, but bear with me - was Shona Thorburn did not get in and I'm excited to see Thorburn get some run. The newly-signed point guard won me over with her play for the University of Utah during the 2006 NCAA Tournament, when the Utes advanced within an overtime of the Final Four.

Now it's off to San Antonio. Frankly, by winning one game on this road trip, the Storm has met my expectations. A win tomorrow against the Silver Stars or Tuesday in L.A. would make this an incredible trip.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Sue's Surgery, Storm Win and More

- After the game, Sue Bird talked to the media about her decision to undergo surgery. Bird explained that she might have been willing to fight through the injury, but when her doctor told her the injury could get worse, that was the deciding factor.

I thought Bird's most telling comment came when she said, "It may look normal, but it doesn't feel normal." Under the surface of apparently strong play, Bird is clearly dragging a little bit. She shared for the first time that the injury has also been very painful off the court, acting up at night.

So Bird will have the surgery done by Dr. Michael Joyce, the UConn team physician who performed the previous two surgeries Bird has had on her left knee (to repair a torn ACL during her freshman year of college and a microfracture procedure after her second WNBA season) and knows her knee better than anyone. Dr. Joyce knows Bird's knee so well, in fact, that he predicted after the microfracture that Bird would need a clean-up surgery in four years.

The hope is that Bird can recover quickly enough to return after the All-Star break, though it's possible she'll miss more than the four games the Storm has between now and the break. Bird is thinking bigger picture. Her eye is toward being at full strength in time for the playoffs.

- With three blowout wins in the last four games, the Storm's reserves have gotten plenty of playing time. I think the action has been useful from a confidence perspective. We're also seeing Wendy Palmer look more and more comfortable all the time, as she confirmed in her postgame interview with Alan Horton. I love watching Palmer play when she's using her veteran tricks to beat younger opponents. The sum is that the Storm's bench is playing as well as it has in some time.

- New Sparks owners Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson were in the KeyArena stands tonight. I had read they like to sit in amongst the crowd and saw the L.A. PR representative taking box scores up into the stands after the first quarter, but couldn't pick out Goodman and Christofferson. I did spot them after the game, not exactly thrilled with the result.

- Thanks to everybody who helped put Bird and Lauren Jackson into the All-Star starting lineup and helped make Bird the leading vote getter in the entire league.

As for Janell Burse, fingers crossed on her chances of making the Western Conference roster as a reserve.

Hit Me With the Digits

Latest WNBA stats as we near the midway point of the season ...


Team          ORating
Seattle 104.5
Phoenix 103.4
Indiana 103.3
Los Angeles 97.9
Detroit 97.3
Minnesota 97.1
Washington 97.0
Sacramento 97.0
Chicago 96.8
Connecticut 96.2
San Antonio 95.7
Houston 94.2
New York 93.4
What a strange distribution. There are three elite offensive teams in the league - the Storm, Phoenix and Indiana. Then the difference between them and anyone else is larger than the difference between fourth and 13th (last).

New York's offense is really struggling. The Liberty miss Erin Thorn's outside shooting very, very, very badly right now. Los Angeles was part of the elite group when we last did this exercise two weeks ago. The Sparks miss Chamique Holdsclaw, but unlike Thorn, she's not coming back.

Team          DRating
Sacramento 90.6
Indiana 90.9
Detroit 92.6
San Antonio 95.1
New York 96.3
Seattle 99.2
Connecticut 99.2
Chicago 99.2
Phoenix 99.3
Los Angeles 99.8
Washington 101.0
Minnesota 104.4
Houston 105.1
Another strange distribution. There are several distinct groups. Sacramento and Indiana are elite, Detroit is a slight bit off that pace, San Antonio and New York are above-average and Minnesota and Houston are bad. Everyone else is right about the same. The Storm's Defensive Rating has shown tremendous improvement since the last time we looked at these numbers. Holding New York to 53 points has a way of doing that.


Again, the standings based on expected wins (as calculated from point differential):
WEST          ExpW   EAST          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
Sacramento 22.3 Indiana 26.3
Seattle 20.4 Detroit 21.5
Phoenix 20.2 Chicago 14.5
San Antonio 17.4 Connecticut 14.2
Los Angeles 15.8 New York 14.1
Minnesota 12.9 Washington 13.9
Houston 8.3

The Fever is far and away the league's top team with Detroit slipping lately. In the East, while the official standings show Washington and Connecticut well back off the back, differential shows them as right with Chicago and New York.

Of course, it's worth noting that one lopsided victory can have a big impact on point differential.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Storm Looking to Add a Player

With WNBA player contracts becoming guaranteed for the season on Wednesday, today is what the league terms its "midseason cutdown." As part of that, the Storm waived center Tye'sha Fluker after last night's win over the Liberty.

Storm Head Coach Anne Donovan confirmed after today's practice that the Storm is looking to use that roster spot to sign a player, likely a guard. Nagging injuries that have bothered Sue Bird (sore left knee) and Betty Lennox (right Achilles tendinitis) make depth in the backcourt potentially a bigger need right now, especially since the Storm's backup guards have not been as productive as reserve posts Wendy Palmer and Ashley Robinson.

"Our guard play is something that we're looking at," said Donovan. "Obviously, that's why we let a post player go."

Donovan expects to sign another player, most likely to a seven-day contract, within the next week. Though Donovan was not asked about experience, salary-cap considerations will likely limit the Storm's options to non-veteran players, those with three or fewer years of experience.

- Lauren Jackson talked after practice about being named Western Conference Player of the Week for the second time this season.

"I feel pretty good about it," she said. "I think I'm playing a little bit better. I think there was other very deserving players - I think Penny (Taylor) definitely deserved it also. It's an honor to get it."

Wanted to call out something from the press release. Did you realize that, with Cheryl Ford falling below the number of games needed to qualify for the league leaders, Jackson now leads the WNBA in points, rebounds AND blocks per game? Wow.

- Jackson sat out the last part of practice, just to rest, while Palmer did not practice for precautionary reasons after experiencing some bursitis (swelling) in her right elbow.