Monday, September 29, 2008

Finals Matchup Halfway Complete

Congrats to the San Antonio Silver Stars, your 2008 Western Conference champions. The Silver Stars rallied down the stretch at the AT&T Center yesterday to defeat Los Angeles for the second time in 28 hours and advance to the WNBA Finals for the first time. One of the observers who was happiest for San Antonio was Storm Head Coach Brian Agler, who spent the last three years as an assistant with the Silver Stars.

"I've got a lot of friends in San Antonio and I know those players and I know there are some players there that have had great careers that haven't won a championship. I know how much that would mean to them," Agler said last Friday. "It's obvious that because of my friendships with them, I would like to see them achieve their goals. But I also have a lot of respect for the other three teams too."

Even though the Sparks were eliminated, I gained a lot of respect for their ability as a team during their postseason run. I really thought L.A.'s guard play and inconsistency would be a major problem, but at no point during the playoffs did the Sparks beat themselves. They simply lost to a better team on the road, with a couple of tough calls going against them.

Los Angeles figures to be even more dangerous next year. With Shannon Bobbitt having a year of experience and Temeka Johnson further removed from microfracture knee surgery (she looked a lot healthier post-Olympics), the point-guard spot should be more stable. Really, the Sparks' offseason priority ought to be shooting guard, where Marie Ferdinand-Harris isn't the floor-spacer the team needs and Raffaella Masciadri is too limited for heavy minutes. I'm not sure if Spaniard Marta Fernandez, very effective at times during her rookie season in 2007, could be in the mix next year.

As for the Finals, our matchup will be complete tonight. Detroit and New York play a winner-take-all Game 3 back at Eastern Michigan University tonight at 4:00 p.m. on ESPN2. If the game comes down to the closing minutes again, the Liberty needs to do a better job of executing on offense. It was also baffling how Janel McCarville could be on the bench at key points of the game. The Shock figures to be tough to beat in a deciding game.

Either winner will have a quick turnaround with Game 3 scheduled for Wednesday in San Antonio. The extra day of rest will come in handy for a Silver Stars team that could really use a healthy Helen Darling and/or Edwige Lawson-Wade to add depth and allow Becky Hammon some quick breathers.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What a Finish in San Antonio

In the NBA, the Los Angeles-San Antonio rivalry has Derek Fisher's shot with 0.4 seconds left to win a key game in the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals. Now, on the same court, the WNBA has matched it with an equally improbable finish, Sophia Young's desperation jumper with 1.8 seconds left that bounced high off the backboard, off the front of the rim and back off the backboard before finally settling into the net to give San Antonio a 67-66 win in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

Watching the shot live via Webcast, it looked like the Silver Stars were doomed when it went a little long on the first carom. Young could shoot that shot 100 times and I'm not sure it would bounce in quite like that again.

So much was riding on that shot. As San Antonio took possession with 1.3 seconds left, it looked like the Silver Stars' season was going to end on DeLisha Milton-Jones' layup moments earlier. With a win, the Sparks were headed to the WNBA Finals, while San Antonio needed the unlikely game score to force a Game 3 tomorrow. Now, the Sparks have to deal with a significant blow to their pysche and have only a little over 24 hours to do so because of the back-to-back games in the conference finals.

Los Angeles' advantage is that the Silver Stars were so hard-pressed to contain Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie in this game. Parker had 19 points and a remarkable 17 rebounds, while Leslie added a double-double of her own with 17 points and 12 boards. This was a mirror image of much of the series with Seattle, with the stars carrying the Sparks while the role players save Temeka Johnson crumbled. I know Shannon Bobbitt is the better defender, but having the rookie running the show down the stretch instead of Johnson was mystifying. Bobbitt shot 2-for-12 from the field and was responsible for a costly shot-clock violation in the final minute.

San Antonio's other big issue is backcourt injuries. Edwige Lawson-Wade left after rolling her right ankle and Helen Darling was limited and ultimately sidelined by a calf injury she's been battling since the Olympic break. If both are out, the Silver Stars will have to rely heavily on their starters in a back-to-back set.

All of that sets up a fascinating winner-take-all Game 3 tomorrow at 2 p.m. on ESPN2 just after Detroit and New York play Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series at Noon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Conference Finals Picks

Alas, recapping the Storm's season left me with little time to work on previews of the conference finals, which kick off ... well, actually about 20 minutes ago, but I haven't looked at the L.A.-San Antonio score, so I'm still going to make my picks.

San Antonio in 2
In many respects, the Silver Stars can be considered a suped-up (read: healthy) version of the Storm. Both teams are outstanding on defense and can struggle at times on offense, not unlike the Sparks. I think San Antonio's superior depth at this point of the season - especially if Edwige Lawson-Wade continues to offer a spark off the bench - will make the difference where the Storm fell just short.

Detroit in 3
The Libkids are certified playoff overachievers after extending the Shock to three games last year and taking out Connecticut in a first-round upset this season. Still, they'll have their hands full with a Shock team that absolutely took Indiana apart in Tuesday's Game 3. Even with Plenette Pierson's status up in the air and Cheryl Ford long out, Detroit seems to be clicking. I think the Liberty can make things very interesting, but the Shock will ultimately prevail on their temporary homecourt at Eastern Michigan University.

Jackson Hasn't Thought About Free Agency

Hello from The Furtado Center, where the Storm is completing exit interviews today with Lauren Jackson and Yolanda Griffith meeting with Head Coach Brian Agler and CEO Karen Bryant.

Earlier, we had our first chance to speak to Jackson about her future. Because point guard Sue Bird is playing out the second year of a deal signed as a core player and teams are now limited to one core designation per season, Jackson cannot be cored and will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in her WNBA career. (Previously, Jackson signed the three-year deal just completed as a restricted free agent.) Also a factor is whether Jackson decides at some point to take a WNBA season off to rest and let her body get healthier. Those decisions are coming, but Jackson wants time to ponder them.

"To be honest, I haven't even thought about it," she told reporters. "There's a lot of things that will factor into my decision-making, but I haven't even really thought about it. I'm just trying to get fixed and healed and get ready to get back on the court again."

We'll have more on Jackson's status as well as a look ahead to 2009 for the Storm later tonight on, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cash Still Considering Her Options

As she enters her WNBA offseason, Seattle Storm forward Swin Cash has a decision to make with regards to her back, which has bothered her much of the last two seasons and became especially painful late in the 2008 regular season, forcing Cash to miss the Storm's last three games and limiting her in the playoffs.

"I have a herniated disc that has been pressing on the sciatic nerve," Cash explained to the media Wednesday. "For anyone who has that, it's very painful.

"I've been able to control it most of the season, but something just kind of happened in that Minnesota game (on Sept. 6) that irritated it."

Doctors advised Cash not to play in the Storm's series against the Los Angeles Sparks, but she soldiered through the pain and contributed in a reserve role. Now, Cash is scheduled to head overseas to begin playing overseas for USK Praha in Prague (the same team Storm center Janell Burse played for the last three seasons before moving to Russia for this winter) in mid-October, meaning she must make a decision on what is in store within the next couple of weeks.

"I think, obviously, surgery could be an option," said Cash. "Do you wait it out? Do rehab? Just a lot of different things. I've seen some of the best specialists in the country, got a lot of different opinions. I guess it's pretty much me praying on it and determining what's the best route to take right now. I've played and I feel like I've gotten a little bit better, so I don't know if you want to jump right into surgery, if that's the answer."

If Cash did undergo surgery, she indicated the recovery time would be around 8-12 weeks with the possibility of an aggressive rehab schedule getting her back on the court sooner rather than later.

"It wouldn't be something that would be drastic and keep me out for a long period of time," Cash said.

Aside from the situation with her back, Cash has been looking forward to playing overseas after spending recent offseasons working out in the U.S. and broadcasting for ESPN.

"I obviously wanted to spend a little more time playing at a higher level," she said. "I can train here and I can go play with the guys. In Miami, I played pickup, (partner) Chafie (Fields) and I and played with Ruth (Riley) sometimes when she was down there. But to get overseas and to get that high-level competition was what I really wanted to do to get me back to that level that I know I'm able to play at in this league consistently. That was the biggest reason why I wanted to go over there."

- We had a chance to speak to 10 of the Storm's 13 players today. Lauren Jackson will do her exit interview tomorrow, while Yolanda Griffith's has yet to be scheduled. Sheryl Swoopes wished to speak to the media tomorrow, when Head Coach Brian Agler and CEO Karen Bryant will also wrap up the season.

- OK, the Kelly Santos story mentioned in my main story on the Storm's disappointment and how much players enjoyed being teammates deserves more explanation. I'll attempt to do it justice. When the Storm went down to Los Angeles for Game 1 of the playoff series, the team stayed in a different hotel than in the previous two trips to L.A. This will prove critical.

When the team arrived at LAX, Santos left to spend the evening with friends watching Brazilian movies. They brought her back to the hotel the team had stayed at previously, and Santos spent the night there. On Thursday morning, Santos went to the room of Equipment Manager Danielle Yellam to get her gear for practice only to get no answer at Yellam's room number. After a phone call, Santos finally realized she was in the wrong place.

With little time to spare, Santos hightailed it over to the Storm's new hotel via taxi and was able to make the team bus to practice. It was only then, Sue Bird explained, that teammates got inquisitive as to how Santos' roommate (Kristen O'Neill) could allow such a mix-up. When O'Neill said Santos had never shown up, they got suspicious.

"After reviewing the whole story," said Bird, "we're like, 'So, where did you stay last night?'"

That's when Santos had to come clean about staying at the other hotel.

The great unresolved question of this whole story remains how Santos was able to check in to the other hotel and spend the night. Apparently she was told at the front desk that her team was staying there. What team? Impossible to say.

"Somebody there needs to be fired," Bird joked. "How crazy is that? By far highlight of the year."

Santos was a little less thrilled the story went public, saying with a grin that Bird was not her friend if she was telling everyone.

"I really work with nice people," Santos said, glad Agler wasn't upset. "Everything's OK for them, it's not a problem.

"So, that's my story. I have to write a book."

Share Your Thoughts

Looking at the comments in the last 12 hours, it looks like fans want a chance to talk about the season that was and share their thoughts, so let me provide a specific entry where you can leave your comments on the 2008 season.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Postgame Post Mortem

The big thing I wanted to ask about after the game was the play with 32.4 seconds left where Sue Bird fouled Marie Ferdinand-Harris and sent her to the line with the Storm down three. Bird seemed angry after the play.

Some background. During the preceding timeout, we were able to catch some audio of Storm Head Coach Brian Agler on the radio broadcast, which was off air. It appeared Agler was ordering a foul. I was a little dubious of the strategy with more than enough time to get a stop and potentially get the ball back down three with a chance to tie.

On the inbounds pass, Tanisha Wright immediately fouled Sparks guard Shannon Bobbitt, putting the Storm at the limit. Then Los Angeles inbounded to Ferdinand-Harris and Bird applied pressure before being quickly whistled for a foul. It was possible that Bird hadn't wanted to foul Ferdinand-Harris, an excellent free-throw shooter, but it occurred to me that the team might have wanted to defend straight up after the first foul.

Bird confirmed that notion. It seems possible that the referees might have anticipated the Storm intentionally fouling and gone quickly to the whistle. Ferdinand-Harris hit both shots and the Storm was forced to try to foul the rest of the way.

Bird still seemed a little shellshocked as she talked to reporters, uncertain quite how to react to some of the big-picture questions. She did make it clear that she refused to consider the season a failure because of what the Storm accomplished during a record-setting regular season.

Sheryl Swoopes was, inevitably, asked about her future. She didn't have a firm answer, explaining that if she continued to feel good she would like to play another season. Swoopes was resolute that if she plays in 2009, it will be for the Storm.

The Storm will hold exit interviews over the next couple of days, and will have plenty more analysis looking back on the 2008 season and ahead to what is in store for the upcoming offseason.

Elsewhere ...

While we await Game 3 of the Storm-Sparks series, a pair of series concluded with deciding games last night.

In Connecticut, the New York Liberty surprised the favored Sun and surprised me. Nothing against New York, but I really thought that Connecticut would come out of the Eastern Conference. Having not really seen much of the series, I'm not sure whether the Sun's disappointing 12-of-55 three-point shooting was due to the Liberty's defense or Connecticut's offense. Either way, the three-heavy Sun could not survive the slump.

I'm a believer to some extent in the importance of experience in the postseason, but the Libkids are pretty clearly an exception at this point. Last year New York played way over its head by giving the Shock a first-round scare, and this year the Liberty pulled off the upset. Be wary, Detroit or Indiana.

After seeing Game 1, I also missed nearly all of the Sacramento-San Antonio series, which is a shame. I would have loved to see how the Monarchs earned a blowout win on the road in Game 2 and then forced OT last night. Whatever the team's faults, Sacramento plays hard all the time, and that along with some timely shooting by Ticha Penicheiro and Nicole Powell put a scare into the Silver Stars.

Does the series being so much closer than expected reveal anything about San Antonio? My inclination is to say no. Last year, Detroit had an even more difficult time getting out of the first round and still came within one score of the championship. Sometimes, the matchups just aren't right.

How about Edwige Lawson-Wade putting up a big game for the Silver Stars last night? Edwige was always a favorite during her brief time in the Storm, and now she's translating her international success to the WNBA game. Mechelle Voepel highlighted Lawson-Wade and Liberty rookie Essence Carson in her postgame column.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday Practice Roundup

Does this look physical to you?
Aaron Last/Storm Photos

With the Storm practicing at The Furtado Center and the Sparks at the nearby KeyArena, the media had a chance to get the perspective from both sides going into tomorrow's Game 2 (6:00 p.m., ESPN2, 1150 AM KKNW, TIX).

One of the major topics of the day was what is acknowledged to be the physical nature of this series, though we haven't seen anything like Ebony Hoffman's takedown of Plenette Pierson in Detroit that earned a Flagrant Foul. In fact, no Flagrants have been called in this series, and I don't think any have been warranted. The media might be making a bit too much of the physicality angle, but both sides have been happy to play along and maybe try to work the officials a little bit.

"It's just about welcoming it," said Sparks forward Candace Parker, who compared the way the game was called yesterday to the more physical international style. "That's the way they feel they can stop the Sparks is to be physical. I guess it's our job to show them that it doesn't matter. They were just as physical in Game 1 as they were here."

"It's been a physical series," offered Sue Bird. "I think they're a very physical team. For them to say we're more physical is not really accurate. If anything, it's equal. I think it's two physical teams going against each other. I don't know that one is more physical than the other."

Most of the rest of the players and coaches were of the opinion that both teams are in fact physical.

"I think both teams are physical in two different ways," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "I'm not going to say how I think they're physical, but I will say that I think we just try to stay in plays with people. We're undersized at times and we have to stay in plays, we have to stay in position. At times we have to hold our ground. At times we have to really be mentally tough in how our ballhandlers are being guarded. I think that we have to keep our composure in regard to things that happen after the whistle blows."

"Both teams are physical," Tanisha Wright said. "Luckily, yesterday, the refs let us play too."

Agler emphasized the importance of dealing with the style of the game and adjusting to the way it is refereed as a key to the outcome of Game 3. His counterpart, Michael Cooper, bristled at the suggestion that his team might need to be more physical Tuesday, suggesting that could backfire.

"We just have to be the smarter team," he said. "Sometimes, physicalness can work against you, because if you're too physical the officials are going to call it. You can play physical and play smart at the same time and be successful."

Cooper and Parker also downplayed the importance of adjustments by the Storm in terms of explaining Los Angeles' 15-point first half during Game 2. As is probably approriate in terms of preparing for the next game, the Sparks looked within to find an explanation to their struggle to score.

"I don't think they forced anything on us," said Cooper. "It was our inability to do anything. Their defense was what it was - the same defense they had in Los Angeles. We were just apprehensive about what we wanted to do with the basketball. But we'll be ready to play tomorrow.

"We had some wide-open shots, the same we were getting in Los Angeles. We didn't knock them down - we did in Los Angeles. That was the difference. When a team is not shooting well from the perimeter, it makes the defense get bigger and bigger than what it was. They've done nothing more than just play harder this last game."

"If you look at the overall game, it was just us - it really was," Parker added. "It was that we weren't able to knock down open shots, we were turning the ball over. It wasn't anything different that they did."

Agler didn't entirely disagree, saying, "I think a lot of it had to do with they missed some shots. I don't know if you can count on that all the time. I think we saw how they're capable of shooting down in L.A. Tomorrow's just hard to say."

I do think both sides glossed over the role of transition defense in the low-scoring first half. Part of the reason the Sparks guards were able to get going in the first half of Game 1 and have a big game was that the team got out and ran in the first quarter thanks to turnovers and missed shots by the Storm. In Game 2, L.A. had just three fast-break points in the first half and constantly had to play against a set defense. In addition to better ballhandling, the Storm's decision to eschew the offensive glass in favor of getting back to defensively had a lot to do with that.

Other notes:
- After attempting to practice Saturday, as reported by the Seattle Times, Lauren Jackson was not dressed for Monday's very light workout and film session.

"She was in here earlier than I got here," reported Agler. "I think she just had a typical workout in the weight room."

Bird was impressed by the fact that her teammate and friend would even attempt to come back early, saying, "It's great. It just shows how competitive she is. It's one thing to be sitting at home in Australia rehabbing, but I think when she's here seeing this, it's hard for her not to want to be on the court. I think after seeing Game 1, I'm sure she's thinking to herself how much she could help, how much she wants to be out there. I think it's great that she's trying. I would never ever want to push her. I wouldn't expect her to be able to play. It's just way too soon. She hasn't tested herself out enough."

"I guess Willis Reed is the guy that's been named a lot lately," Bird later joked. "One shot - that's all we're asking. Make one and you can sit the rest of the game."

- While the Storm's rotation players were finished after doing some brief shooting, reserves Kimberly Beck, Shyra Ely, Katie Gearlds, Kristen O'Neill and Kelly Santos played 4-on-4 against the team's practice squad to get some extra work and stay sharp. Agler used all 11 of his active players in Game 2 and said he expects to use a large rotation again in Game 3.

- Storm forward Swin Cash celebrated her 29th birthday at practice, saying a win tomorrow would make an ideal present.


- A one-one with Cash
- Agler
- Bird
- Wright
- Cooper
- Parker

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Swoopes' Breakout Game

Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images
This was a game six months in the making. When the Seattle Storm signed Sheryl Swoopes in March, Head Coach Brian Agler was hoping for a performance like this. And when Swoopes decided to join the Storm and work to return from back surgery, it was with the big stage of the playoffs in mind.

It was a vintage effort on both ends of the floor from Swoopes in the Storm's 64-50 Game 2 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks. She scored 16 points - one shy of her regular-season high - knocking down a pair of three-pointers, a bank effort and a trademark hit from NBA distance. At the other end, Swoopes reminded why she is one of the few players in the league who can take over a game defensively, playing the passing lanes and coming up with four of the Storm's 10 steals. She came up with deflections or played a part in turnovers on several more plays.

"For me personally, I would say definitely this was one of the games that I wanted to have all year long," Swoopes said afterwards. "To be able to come out and do it in the playoffs in a game like this obviously did a lot for me, but on top of that just for us to be able to walk out with the 'W,' that's the most important thing."

All season long, Swoopes has had to hear from the critics that she's too old at 37, that she's over the hill. Surely Swoopes is no longer the player she once was, but when you're one of two players in the history of the WNBA to win MVP three times, there's a lot of room to drop off and still be a very productive player. In the regular season, despite the occasional time she missed due to injury, Swoopes was still one of less than 50 players in the league I rated as worth at least two Wins Above Replacement Player.

The month since the Olympic break had been especially frustrating for Swoopes. An extremely painful heel injury cost her a game and a half. Just when Swoopes seemed to be getting going again, she suffered the freak concussion that finished her regular season.

Swoopes responded to every setback by redoubling her hard work. Fans saw Swoopes' play on the court, but what few people realize is the extent of her dedication and hard work throughout the season. Swoopes spent hours before and after practice working on her game with the Storm coaching staff, putting up shots and getting in the kind of intense workouts that prepared her to play. Swoopes was motivated in no small part by the desire to, as she put it, not "be just another body on the floor." Don't underestimate Swoopes' pride.

That some pride came into play going into this playoffs when Swoopes, watching at home during the Storm's nationally-televised regular-season finale in L.A., heard ESPN2's analysts question the team's ability to win in the postseason without Lauren Jackson. More than anyone else on the Storm, Swoopes seemed to take that criticism personally and channel it into her performance.

"Especially when we went down the first game, a lot of people counted us out," she reiterated today. "Even though we were playing at home, I don't think a lot of people thought we could win this game."

Swoopes' performance was one of the biggest reasons the Storm silenced any critics. She came out strong, and so did the team.

"Tanisha (Wright) said to me before the game started, 'Sheryl, you have to be aggressive, you have to attack,'" Swoopes recalled. "She said the energy I had to start the game was kind of contagious and everybody else felt that.

"It doesn't matter whether I'm scoring points or not - I feel like my leadership on the floor and getting out and being aggressive defensively and talking and trying to lead the team, I feel like that's why I was brought here. If I'm putting points on the board, then that's just a little extra."

Swoopes' experience will again be critical going into Tuesday's winner-take-all Game 3 (6:00 p.m., ESPN2, 1150 AM KKNW, TIX). She's been here countless times before, and I thought she struck the perfect note when she was asked by reporters whether she is confident about the game.

"Why not?" she responded. "L.A., again, they are a very good team. At the same time, I think every single player in this locker room feels like we have everything we need in order to beat them.

"Not only do we have to bring what we brought today, we're going to have to bring a lot more. But I think we have what it takes to get it done."

If Swoopes comes up with another big effort, like the triple-double (the first ever in the WNBA Playoffs) she unleashed on an unsuspecting Storm squad in Game 3 in the first round three years ago, it will be no surprise. Still, it might be tough to top today's game. There have been any number of highlight performances in Swoopes' playoff career, but I can't help but suspect that because of all the extenuating circumstances this one might have been as satisfying as almost any she's played.

"I couldn't ask for a better situation or a better game than what I personally had today," she said. "Hopefully I can bring that and a lot more on Tuesday, because we're definitely going to need it."

Postgame Odds & Ends

Check out the video from postgame press conferences:
- Storm Head Coach Brian Agler
- Storm guard Sue Bird
- Sparks Head Coach Michael Cooper
- Sparks center Lisa Leslie

Also listen to our locker-room interview with Sheryl Swoopes.

I only caught Leslie's press conference. She and Swoopes took contrasting views on which side was responsible for the physical nature of the game, which ... well, it's not exactly a surprise at this point of the season. Leslie downplayed the notion that the Sparks were frustrated, but it certainly looked that way when she drew a technical foul. Cooper and Candace Parker were close to getting T'd up themselves.

Swin Cash's Game 1 T was out of character for the Storm, who - with the possible exception of Lauren Jackson - rarely draw technicals. According to, Storm players were whistled for five technicals in the regular season (two by Jackson), while L.A. was called for nine (three by Leslie). They don't have the numbers on coaches, but I can only think of one from Agler, that coming in the closing seconds of a loss at Houston.

- If you were at the game, you saw the introduction of the Third Annual Stormy Awards during a timeout. Even if you weren't there, you still have the ability to check out and vote for the three candidates here on through Tuesday. I'm still not sure which direction I'm leaning.

- I haven't mentioned that Connecticut's Mike Thibault won Coach of the Year honors yesterday, edging out San Antonio's Dan Hughes and Agler, who finished third with five votes. I think any of the top three would have been very deserving winners. I was a little surprised the vote went so strongly to Thibault (he received 24 of the 45 votes), but maybe that's a result of having only one vote as opposed to voting first-second-third or something like that.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Coop's Conspiracy Theory

The Storm's secret weapon?
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Before the game, when I interviewed Michael Cooper, he threw me a curveball by mentioning the Storm had focused in practice on defending Sue Bird (which made sense) and Lauren Jackson (huh?). I wasn't exactly sure what to make of that, but Cooper's logic became clear during a rare noteworthy postgame press conference.

"We're expecting to play against a team that's going to suit Lauren Jackson up," Cooper said, looking ahead to Game 2.

And what gave Cooper the idea Jackson could play?

"The basketball gods," he mused. "I just think there's something about that - she's down here for a reason. Obviously, it's for team morale and camaraderie, but she's walking pretty well on the other end every time I watch her. We've got to be ready to play her.

"As a coaching staff, we prepared for her for this game here. We're not going to leave any stone unturned. We're going to stay ready, and if they do (play her), it won't be a surprise to us. They're a very good basketball team without her, but they become a great team with her."

Things got more fun when Storm Head Coach Brian Agler followed Cooper to the dais. He was asked whether Jackson was going to start (along with whether he had been in contact with the basketball gods)

"No, I don't think she'll start on Sunday," Agler deadpanned.

(Note that he left the door open to Jackson playing off the bench.)

(That was just a joke. She's not going to play.)

Anyways, the mood of the Storm after the game was disappointed but not downbeat. Getting off to a better start and not having to play from behind will be key for the Storm. Coach Agler said he thought the team settled down after halftime, and also gave credit to Los Angeles for simply playing a strong first half. Yolanda Griffith was resolute about the next two games, saying the Storm will be fine.

Historically, losing Game 1 on the road has actually worked out well for the Storm, who have won both series that have started like that, both in 2004 - the Western Conference Finals against Sacramento and the WNBA Finals against Connecticut.

Postgame video courtesy
Sue Bird
Lisa Leslie

Friday, September 19, 2008

There Can Only Be One

Going off the Sparks playoff slogan and the NBA commercials:

NBAE/Getty Images

Also, here's a link to Sue's blog previewing this series.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Shootaround Update

LOS ANGELES - Hello from the STAPLES Center, where we're less than eight hours away from Game 1 of the Storm's first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Sparks (7:30 p.m., NBA TV, FSN delayed at 11:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW). Everything is in place, including the WNBA Playoffs logos, as the Storm goes through its shootaround.

Before that started, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler chatted with the media, reporting there is nothing new with the condition of forward Swin Cash.

"Same status as yesterday," said Agler. "I know you can't say day-to-day anymore because we're on the day, but hour-by-hour."

The team is also still "up in the air" as far as a starting lineup.

After the Storm practiced yesterday, Agler had a chance to watch the first two playoff series kick off, including his former Silver Stars squad going into ARCO Arena to win Game 1 of their series with the Monarchs.

"I think San Antonio played very well," said Agler. "I think Sacramento played great defense in the second half to get themselves back in the game. I think they really competed - they did that all year long. That's why they got in the playoffs, because they play as hard as anyone in the league. San Antonio's just very, very solid in team defense and then they put a lot of people on the floor who can score and play well together."

- While we were talking to Coach Agler, Sue Bird was taping an interview with KOMO 1000 AM's Matt Pitman (aka the Storm's PA announcer). You'll be able to hear that interview in the 3:00 p.m. hour on KOMO. (UPDATE: Pitman says to tune in at 3:45 p.m., while you can hear the interview in its entirety online.)

- Lauren Jackson was preparing to jump on an exercise bike while her teammates go through shootaround. Jackson continues to rehabilitate her right ankle.

- This is a battle of time-related slogans. The Storm's playoff theme is "It's Time," while Los Angeles continues to use "It's Showtime," a nod to the Lakers Head Coach Michael Cooper played for in the '80s. (UPDATE: I guess I was wrong about this. It looks like they're going with "There Can Only Be One," the NBA's most recent playoff slogan. So it is, in fact, the Storm's time.)

- I'm pleased to report that, despite not making any of my own shots, I managed to best play-by-play broadcaster Dick Fain and Ryan Williams from PR in H-O-R-S-E on the STAPLES court while the Storm watched film by virtue of them both having an H and me having nothing when film was complete. Earlier, Fain beat Williams in a spirited Around the World matchup of two former high-school stars.

UPDATE: Kristen O'Neill was the big winner in the half-court shooting contest that is a post-shootaround tradition. O'Neill ended up making two out of four attempts to win a shootout against Bird, who also initially hit from half-court.

Cash Not Likely to Play Game 1

I just spoke to Storm Head Coach Brian Agler after the team practiced this afternoon at the STAPLES Center. While Sheryl Swoopes remains on track to play in tomorrow's Game 1 (7:30 p.m., NBA TV, FSN tape delay, 1150 AM KKNW), Agler is not necessarily expecting to have Swin Cash in the lineup.

"Swin is still day-to-day," he said. "If I was going to say anything on top of it, I would say doubtful.

"But I will say this. It's not because she doesn't want to. She wants to play, but we've got to put her health first."

The coaching staff is still considering who would step in if Cash is unable to go, with Swoopes one of the possibilities.

Game 1 to Re-Air on FSN

In case you haven't seen our press release, tomorrow night's Game 1 of the Storm-Sparks playoff series will air at 11:00 p.m. tape delayed on FSN locally. The game will also be available live on NBA TV, and that broadcast will be replayed. If you can't watch the game live - or even if you want to watch it again or TiVo it - that's a great alternative. I'll also be offering our Live From Press Row liveblog from courtside at the STAPLES Center during the game, so make part of your Game 1 plans.

Some odds and ends:
- If you didn't see it, I put together a preview of the other playoff series using teams similar to this year's squads.

- polled its writers on year-end awards, and Sue Bird shares their imaginary MVP award with Candace Parker, both players getting two votes.

- Oh, did I mention they'll both be on the floor tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.?

- Mechelle Voepel of has her playoff preview up, and as usual it's hilarious and not to be missed. Voepel also cast her MVP vote for Bird.

- If you haven't read The Olympian's recent column on the Storm, it's a must-read on a topic one of the Seattle dailies ought to consider for a column, the team's success contrasted against what has unquestionably been a tough year for local sports fans (speaking as one of them).

You can mope all you want, Washington sports fans. But what the Storm have
given you this year is top-notch, home-owned excellence. Ignore them at your own
miserable peril.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday Audio

For your listening pleasure:
Storm Head Coach Brian Agler offers general updates.
Sheryl Swoopes talks about her recovery from the concussion she suffered Sept. 6.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Storm Audio

Interviews from today's practice:
Head Coach Brian Agler
Sue Bird
Swin Cash
Yolanda Griffith


Bird in the Media

Storm guard Sue Bird is an in-studio guest on Northwest Sports Tonight, airing tonight at 9:30 p.m. on Northwest Cable News and 11:00 p.m. on KONG 6/16. The show also repeats on NWCN at 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

Bird will also appear on KISS 106.1 FM's Jackie & Bender morning show tomorrow morning. I believe that will air about 8:40 a.m., but I'm not sure.

UPDATE: Here's the video from NWCN and audio from KISS 106.1 as well as a link to Bird on KJR yesterday afternoon on Groz with Gas.

Cash, Swoopes Return to Practice

Swin Cash talks to media after practice.
Aaron Last/Storm Photos

As the Seattle Storm took the floor at The Furtado Center for the team's first practice in preparation for the playoffs, there was a welcome sight: starters Swin Cash and Sheryl Swoopes, dressed and on the floor.

"They did a little bit," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "Not necessarily full go, but they were out in uniform and active. We didn't do a whole lot of up-and-down. It was mostly half-court things. Sheryl was in and out, not in for the whole time. Swin was more limited."

Both Cash and Swoopes were getting their first work in with the team since the Sept. 6 win over the Minnesota Lynx, 10 days ago. In that game, Swoopes suffered a concussion in a scary fall, while Cash had the back injury that she has dealt with throughout the last two seasons flare up. They missed the Storm's last three games of the season to rest.

Now, the question is their availability for the Storm's series against the Los Angeles Sparks, starting Friday at the STAPLES Center (7:30 p.m., NBA TV, 1150 AM KKNW). Will they be ready?

"I think Sheryl's moving that direction," said Agler. "I think Swin, we need another 24 hours on that. She's still talking to some physicians."

"That just kind of depends on the powers that be," added Cash, who is consulting with doctors, her agents and her family. "I go day-to-day with my body and the powers that be make a decision and we go from there."

For Cash, it was important to get back on the floor after the extended absence. Swoopes, meanwhile, has been feeling better and is no longer troubled by lingering headaches after the concussion.

Agler said that even if both players were able to go, he doesn't anticipate returning Tanisha Wright to the bench, which would leave one of them as reserves. Wright has started every game since the Olympic break after starting just three of the Storm's first 23 games.

Even in her first practice back, Cash could tell the playoffs are coming.

"That's the one thing that I noticed even about today's practice - intensity has to go up," she said. "Your practices, how hard you cut, you rebound, box out - all those things have to go up come playoff time because everyone is just going to be on the top of their game. You have to expect that."

Storm Would Have Home-Court vs. Detroit

One last item to wrap up the WNBA Playoff picture. I and others reported that Detroit would have home-court advantage in the WNBA Finals in a potential matchup with the Storm. Both teams went 22-12, but I was going off the Shock's superior record within conference.

However, the league has pointed out that's the wrong tiebreaker. In fact, it is record against the opposite conference that decides inter-conference ties. The Storm was 9-5 against the East, while Detroit was just 6-8 against the West. So the Storm wins the tie and potential home-court advantage. The Storm had a better record than any other team in the East, so should the team advance to the WNBA Finals, Games 1, 2 and 5 will be at KeyArena.

My apologies for the error and, for the record, we'll all be thrilled if this comes into play.

Final Stats

The postponement of the Houston-Sacramento game delayed us by a day, but now we have the final stats for all 14 WNBA teams and can take a look. We start, as usual, with point differential as sorted by Expected Wins.

Team          ExpW    Team          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
San Antonio 21.2 Detroit 21.9
Seattle 19.9 Connecticut 21.9
Los Angeles 19.5 New York 18.2
Minnesota 18.5 Indiana 17.5
Phoenix 17.0 Chicago 15.7
Sacramento 16.1 Washington 9.3
Houston 15.5 Atlanta 5.6
Once upon a time, point differential was a perfect predictor of the WNBA champion. The team with the top differential won the first eight league championships. Since then, the team with the best differential has fallen short three straight years, with the No. 2 team winning the championship. Perhaps the Connecticut Sun knew that and intentionally finished just behind Detroit. The Sun had the best differential and lost in both 2005 and 2006, while the Shock had the best differential last year and lost in the Finals. The difference between Detroit and Connecticut was a single point over the course of the season.

There is less separation for the top teams in the Western Conference. If you take out the Storm's 17-point loss on Sunday, the Storm would cut the gap with San Antonio about in half. The outcome was worth more than a win in terms of the difference between the Storm and the L.A. Sparks. In terms of differential, on paper the matchup between Sacramento and San Antonio is easily the first-round's biggest mismatch.

Alright, to the leaders in Offensive and Defensive Rating on a per-possession basis.

Team          ORating     Team          DRating
--------------------- ---------------------
Phoenix 106.2 San Antonio 93.7
Connecticut 103.0 Los Angeles 93.7
Minnesota 102.9 Indiana 94.5
Detroit 102.6 Seattle 94.7
New York 100.2 Detroit 96.4
San Antonio 99.5 Connecticut 97.9
Seattle 99.2 Sacramento 98.5
AVERAGE 98.9 Chicago 98.8
Chicago 98.1 AVERAGE 98.9
Sacramento 97.6 New York 99.1
Los Angeles 97.2 Houston 99.2
Houston 96.7 Minnesota 101.0
Indiana 95.3 Washington 102.1
Atlanta 93.3 Atlanta 106.4
Washington 91.5 Phoenix 107.0
For much of the season, Indiana was threatening to post one of the best defensive seasons in WNBA history. After a late slide, not only is the Fever's defense not historic, it did not even lead the league. That honor belongs to the Silver Stars, though the top four teams were all very close defensively throughout the season and have clearly separated themselves from the pack. The "defense wins championships" believers can take solace in this: New York was the only below-average defensive team to make the playoffs and Chicago the only above-average team to miss them, and in neither case was much far from average. Meanwhile, a pair of elite offenses (Phoenix and Minnesota) were completely done in by terrible defenses.

Los Angeles, despite the superstars, ended up 10th in the WNBA in offense. I'd have to double-check, but I can't imagine there has ever been a champion who has struggled so much to score.

As far as individuals, a pair of leaderboards featuring Wins Above Replacement Player from my rating system and per-minute PER. Don't forget that Paul Swanson also offers year-end net plus-minus ratings. While Sue Bird saw her net plus-minus take a bit of a hit when the Storm's second unit played well against Atlanta, she still finished as the league's leader.
Player              Tm   WARP
Candace Parker LAS 10.7
Diana Taurasi PHO 9.0
Lisa Leslie LAS 7.5
Lindsay Whalen CON 7.1
Jia Perkins CHI 6.6
Sophia Young SAS 6.5
Candice Dupree CHI 6.0
Janel McCarville NYL 5.9
Becky Hammon SAS 5.8
Tamika Catchings IND 5.7
Candace Parker becomes the second rookie to lead the league in WARP, joining Tamika Catchings. More surprising is that Lisa Leslie finished third in the league. There's been no MVP talk for Leslie, and that's understandable given she plays alongside Parker and her plus-minus numbers are not particularly strong. However, the notion that she's lost a step ... maybe a tiny drop-off on offense, but otherwise it's not justified. Leslie would be my Defensive Player of the Year.

Jia Perkins deserves some mention in All-WNBA voting. Under the radar, she really had a terrific, terrific season. The other surprise in the final WARP numbers is that Catchings snuck into the top 10. On a per-minute basis, Catchings was as effective as Diana Taurasi.

Player              Tm    PER
Diana Taurasi PHO 29.3
Candace Parker LAS 27.2
Sancho Lyttle HOU 27.2
Lauren Jackson SEA 27.0
Lindsay Whalen CON 25.2
Janel McCarville NYL 24.7
Sophia Young SAS 24.2
Asjha Jones CON 23.5
Jia Perkins CHI 23.0
Candice Wiggins MIN 23.0
The differences in the lists reflect both per-minute versus total value and the differences in the two systems. For example, Sancho Lyttle rates as an elite, elite player either way, but she played so few minutes she was not amongst the league's most valuable. Jackson, naturally, is another player hurt by minutes.

The other differences are more subtle. PER prefers Taurasi's high usage rate; WARP likes Parker's defensive numbers. It's hard to go wrong either way.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Storm Rests

With four days until Friday's Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals series against the Los Angeles Sparks, the Storm took Monday off to get some additional rest for a battle-weary rotation.

The Storm will be back on the court tomorrow, and we should have a better idea by then of the status of starters Swin Cash and Sheryl Swoopes going into the postseason. On Wednesday, the Storm heads back down to L.A. and the team will practice at the Sparks practice facility on Thursday before the lights come on Friday night.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Storm Will Play Sparks

It's Time ... almost.

With Sacramento falling earlier tonight in San Antonio, the playoff matchups in the Western Conference are set. The Monarchs finish fourth and will turn around and play again in the AT&T Center for Game 1 later this week. Meanwhile, the loss clinched third place for the Los Angeles Sparks, who will match up with your Seattle Storm ... after the two teams play tomorrow in a relatively-meaningless game to close the regular season.

I asked Storm Head Coach Brian Agler before last night's game about going against the postseason opponent ahead of time.

"I don't know how either team will play that situation," he said. "It's sort of ironic that the other two teams, there's a great chance that Sacramento and San Antonio will be in the situation. I will say this - all four of our teams will use that chance to study each other."

The only thing the Storm has to play for in terms of positioning is home-court advantage for a potential WNBA Finals matchup with the Detroit Shock. A Detroit loss or Storm win would give the Storm the WNBA's second-best record. The Shock plays at New York tomorrow at 1:00 p.m., just before the Storm and Sparks tip off at 1:30 p.m.

We may hear tonight on dates and times for the Storm's series, and naturally those will appear first on

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Rest of My MVP Ballot

With the regular season wrapping up this weekend, ballots for WNBA awards are due Monday. There's little time left for the media to determine its MVP picks, while this is your last weekend to vote online at has already thrown its considerable (but biased) weight behind Storm point guard Sue Bird. But what about the rest of my ballot, at least for online voting purposes?

We start as usual with a look at the numbers. Here's a look at the two stats I lend the most credence: Wins Above Replacement Player by my rating system and Net Plus-Minus rating, as tracked by Paul Swanson of the Lynx. I've included 12 players who feature prominently in the MVP discussion, ranking them in both categories.

Player              Tm   WARP  Rk  Net +/-  Rk
Seimone Augustus MIN 4.2 20 +18.4 2
Sue Bird SEA 4.1 21 +20.7 1
Becky Hammon SAS 6.7 6 + 3.4 49
Asjha Jones CON 5.4 14 +10.8 7
Lisa Leslie LAS 7.2 4 + 4.6 39
Janel McCarville NYL 5.9 8 + 8.9 15

Player Tm WARP Rk Net +/- Rk
Deanna Nolan DET 4.8 16 + 7.9 20
Candace Parker LAS 10.2 1 + 9.9 9
Diana Taurasi PHO 9.0 2 + 8.5 19
Tina Thompson HOU 2.1 40 - 4.1 88
Lindsay Whalen CON 7.3 3 + 2.4 55
Sophia Young SAS 6.9 5 +14.5 3
So, without further ado, my non-Bird picks:

4. Lindsay Whalen, Connecticut
When voting started, Whalen was at the top of my ballot on the strength of her excellent numbers and the Sun's play. However, I've since been persuaded to push her down the ballot because of her relatively poor net plus-minus. That's backed up by how well the Sun has played without Whalen when she's missed time with a sprained ankle over the last couple of weeks. She's an incredible player, but might not be indispensable to her team like, say, the Storm's point guard.

3. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix
One of the sports notions that irks me is this hard-and-fast "playoffs or bust" mentality when it comes to MVP. Is team success an important consideration in MVP voting? Absolutely. However, making the playoffs is an imperfect measure of a team's performance at best. In the Eastern Conference, the Mercury would still be alive for the playoffs. Additionally, Phoenix has a better point differential than the playoff-bound Monarchs. Taurasi's individual numbers are undeniable and she's been as good as anyone in the league in August in making a late postseason push. Still, the combination of numbers and team isn't quite MVP-worthy.

2. Candace Parker, Los Angeles
It's easy to make the argument for Parker to top this list. My numbers rate her as far and away the most valuable player in the league. The prospect of a rookie winning doesn't bother me at all. What does work against Parker is the fact that while her net plus-minus is great, it's not as otherworldy as her individual stats. The notable discrepancy is on defense. The WARP system rates Parker as one of the top five defenders in the league, but the Sparks defend better when she is on the bench. I think her gaudy steal and block numbers may slightly overstate Parker's defensive prowess at this point.

1. Sophia Young, San Antonio
There are plenty of voters who will likely pick Young's teammate Becky Hammon as their MVP, but the numbers strongly suggest that it is Young, not Hammon, who has been most valuable to the Silver Stars this season. Young's net plus-minus is third in the league, and when you consider the quality of her team (net plus-minus is designed so that each team averages exactly 0), she and Bird stand alone when it comes to bottom-line impact on their team's success and failure. Young's offensive game has blossomed, allowing her to run even with Hammon as San Antonio's leading scorer. The breadth of her game is what makes Young so valuable, however, as she rebounds, defends multiple positions and handles the ball with few turnovers.

Swoopes Q&A/Update

I had a chance to chat with Sheryl Swoopes this morning at the Storm's shootaround in her first interview since Saturday's scary fall left her with a concussion. Swoopes made it clear she really felt great about the support shown by fans after her injury, saying, "We definitely feel the love." She's also feeling better and looking forward to getting back on the court in the near future. How are you feeling?
: I'm alright. That's all I can say. I'm just alright. I feel a lot better than I felt a few nights ago, a lot better than three or four nights ago or whatever it was.

Do you remember the play at all?
The only thing I remember was getting hit in the head and waking up in the hospital. I don't remember anything between that time.

What kind of progress have you made?
I guess the good thing is I've actually been able to function a little bit without taking all the drugs and medications they have me on, so that's a pretty good sign. I guess the telltale sign will be when I'm able to get back on the floor and start doing some running and sweating and yelling and screaming and really get back in the flow of it. My focus right now is just to get better from that. Obviously taking time off has helped my foot a lot. Next week's a big week for us, so I want to do everything that I can do individually and personally to be as healthy as I can come playoff time next week. If that means not playing tonight, not playing Sunday and getting ready for our first playoff game, that's what I'll do.

Is the plan still to get on the court a little this weekend?
I hope so. It's a lot different just sitting and watching and walking around and then getting on the floor and running and playing a sweating a little bit. The doctors have put me on some medication that hopefully will help a lot of that. To me, it's important to get back out on the floor so that I can come back come playoff time. I don't want to come back our first game and start playing not having done anything on the court prior to that. Just talking to Tom, that's kind of what our plan is, to try to get on the bike a little bit tomorrow and slowly start progressing where I'm able to get out and start going 5-on-5 again.

Do you have a sense of the concern for your condition in the arena?
I don't know where I got hit, I don't know who did it. I just know what people have told me. Just from talking to Scottie and Jordan, they were telling me how quiet the entire arena was. Everybody was very concerned. It will make me feel good to be able to come out tonight for the game and it's fan appreciation night and really show fans how much I appreciate their care and their concern. Obviously it is, it's a very scary moment. Thankfully it was nothing serious - nothing torn, nothing broken, anything like that. It's nothing that I can't deal with and be able to come back when the time is right for me to come back. I'm just looking forward to getting back out on the floor with my teammates. I don't like being out on the side - not at all.

O'Neill Re-Signed

Release presumably forthcoming, but Storm Head Coach Brian Agler confirmed at shootaround this morning that the team has re-signed Kristen O'Neill for the remainder of the season.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Storm Secures Second Seed

Even though the Storm had the evening off, the results elsewhere around the WNBA mean that the Storm is now locked into the second seed in the Western Conference.

First, San Antonio hung on to beat Connecticut at the AT&T Center, sweeping the home-and-home set between the teams over the last week and guaranteeing the Silver Stars both the top seed in the West and home-court advantage throughout the WNBA postseason.

Later, in a game I watched with some co-workers, the Atlanta Dream stunned the Los Angeles Sparks 83-72 at the STAPLES Center to ensure the Storm the second seed and home-court advantage in the first round. Former Storm players Iziane Castro Marques (23) and Betty Lennox (21) led the upset win, and while it would have been nice to earn home court with a win, I'm glad the Storm's fortunes aren't dependent on beating the Dream and those motivated players returning to KeyArena tomorrow night (7:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW, TIX).

While the Storm is set in second in the West, there is still something to play for over the final two games - home-court advantage in a potential WNBA Finals matchup with Detroit or Connecticut. The Storm needs two wins or one win and a Shock loss to clinch a better record than Detroit, while one win or one Sun loss will do the trick against Connecticut.

The other thing still up in the air is the Storm's opening-round opponent. Sacramento suddenly is very much alive to finish third, though the Monarchs will need to sweep a Texas two-step to San Antonio and Houston that got very strange when the game against the Comets, scheduled for tomorrow, was postponed until Monday because of fast-advancing Hurricane Ike. Sacramento would also need the Storm to defeat the Sparks in Sunday's season finale (1:30 p.m., ESPN2, 1150 AM KKNW). We won't know the Storm's opponent until Saturday at the earliest, and it's possible it could be delayed pending the outcome of Monday's postponed game. Crazy.

As for the second seed ... as Sue Bird noted this morning on KUOW, it's been good to the Storm in the past. The Storm won the championship from the second seed in 2004.

Thursday Links

- The WNBA is celebrating Breast Health Awareness Week right now, and has a touching story from Storm forward Swin Cash. In 2001, when Cash was a junior at UConn, her aunt lost her battle with breast cancer.

"For me when she died in 2001, that was a really tough year all together," Cash
explained. "I felt awful because the whole year I was just not normal because
there were so many emotions that I was going through and I was trying to be
strong for my mom."
Cash's charitable foundation, Cash for Kids, is planning an event in her aunt's honor to benefit the American Cancer Society.

- On Sunday, the Storm held its season ticket holder party at The Garage Billiards and Bowling in Capitol Hill. I was there helping out and it was really a lot of fun for the players as well as fans. Check out a photo gallery from the event.

Joshua Huston/Storm Photos

- Sorry for the late notice, but right now I'm listening to Sue Bird, Brian Agler and Anne Levinson on KUOW 94.9 FM. I'll edit in a link to the podcast when it's up on And here it is! It clocks in at a cool 54 minutes, so have some time cleared on your schedule before listening.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Playoff Picture: Sept. 10

After battling in Sacramento with just nine active players last night, the Storm is taking a well-deserved day off. That gives us a chance to look at the playoff picture, which came further into focus when San Antonio won at Madison Square Garden.

We know this: The four West playoff teams will be the Storm, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

With one win or one Sparks loss, the Storm clinches at least second place and home-court advantage in the first round.

With one win or one Storm loss, San Antonio clinches the top seed in the West.

With one win or one Sacramento loss, the Sparks clinch at least third place.

It's possible, then, that everything could be set in the West by the end of the Storm's game on Friday. All that would require is the Silver Stars beating Connecticut and Los Angeles beating Atlanta tomorrow and the Storm defeating the Dream at KeyArena Friday (7:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW, TIX). (Another equivalent scenario would have both the Sparks and Sacramento lose their next games; the Monarchs play in Houston on Friday.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Playoff Schedule

I've gotten a couple of e-mails asking about the schedule for the WNBA Playoffs, so I thought I'd share it here.

There are two possible sets of dates for the first round. Teams can either play Thursday/Saturday/Monday or Friday/Sunday/Tuesday. We won't know which set the Storm is part of until matchups are set. If the Storm is able to secure home-court advantage, it would host Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) at KeyArena on either Sept. 20 and 22 or Sept. 21 and 23.

Both sets of conference final games will be played Thursday/Saturday/Sunday, Sept. 25/Sept. 27/Sept. 28.

The WNBA Finals kicks off on Wednesday, Oct. 1 and will wrap up on Thursday, Oct. 9 with games Wednesday/Friday/Sunday/Monday/Thursday.

Tickets for the Storm's first home game at KeyArena - likely Game 2 but potentially Game 1 if the Storm does not end up with home-court advantage - are on sale now, so get yours today and ensure that you'll be part of the playoff excitement in less than two weeks.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Swoopes Out Tomorrow, Return Uncertain

Sheryl Swoopes is out of the hospital and resting at home, but did not join the Seattle Storm when the team traveled to Sacramento this afternoon for tomorrow's matchup with the Monarchs (7:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW).

"Tests were all negative," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler, "so she's just going to be home resting here. She'll have another doctor's appointment tomorrow and then we'll have a better idea of what timetable we're talking about."

Swoopes suffered a concussion when she took an elbow to the head from Minnesota's Candice Wiggins during Saturday's Storm win over the Lynx. Because Swoopes was knocked unconscious by the blow, medical staff took extra precaution, taking Swoopes off on a stretcher.

Though the timetable for Swoopes' return is uncertain, Agler is anticipating being without her for a while.

"I kind of think she'll be out for the rest of the regular season," he said.

Swoopes had been coming off the bench because of a painful sore right heel. In her absence, however, the Storm is thin at guard. Katie Gearlds, who has primarily played both forward spots this season, saw time at shooting guard during the Storm's road trip when Swoopes left one game early and missed another entirely because of the heel.

- The Storm has an opportunity to sweep the season against Sacramento with a win. The two teams could end up playing in the first round of the playoffs, but Agler downplayed regular-season results being a factor. His main concern at this point is seeding.

"It's just a matter right now of trying to get first place in the Western Conference," Agler said. "We need one more win to secure second and we need to try to find a way to get ahead of San Antonio, so every game is very important."

- Storm center Yolanda Griffith is making her third trip back to Sacramento this season (including one during the preseason) after playing nine years with the Monarchs. At this point, going back isn't a big deal outside of the fact that she still makes her home in Sacramento.

"It's just basically going to see my family, spending time with my family," Griffith said. "I'm going home to get me a home-cooked meal and when the game comes, I'm going to be ready for the game."

Why Sue Bird is My MVP

Guest post by Dick Fain:

Sue Bird should be the WNBA MVP for a very simple reason. She does more to help her team WIN than any other player in the league. There are other players that have better athleticism, there are more spectacular numbers to be found, but no one can adapt to her team's needs the way Sue does.

If you want a number to back up my assertion, here is the only one that I need to give: 7-3. The Seattle Storm is 7-3 without Lauren Jackson and the reason why is obvious. Sue has taken it upon herself to pick up her scoring load while at the same time continuing to be the best distributing point guard in the league. She has become a scorer without selfishness, which I feel is a refreshing sight in today’s area of “scoring guards” who at times can put their numbers ahead of the only numbers that matter … the wins.

Dick Fain is in his first year as the Storm's play-by-play broadcaster and is one of the two Seattle-area media members voting on the WNBA's postseason awards. Also see the Bird '08 Homepage for more on her MVP candidacy.

Playoff Picture: Sept. 8

After the weekend slate of games, the playoff picture in the Western Conference is getting clearer. Let's take a look.

Team           W   L    GB  Storm  Conf   H/A  500+
San Antonio 21 10 - 1-2 9-10 2/1 3/0
Seattle 21 10 - 13-5 1/2 2/1
Los Angeles 19 13 2.5 1-1 11-8 2/0 1/1
Sacramento 17 14 4.0 3-0 8-9 1/2 2/1
Phoenix 15 16 6.0 3-1 7-12 0/3 1/2
Houston 14 17 7.0 2-1 9-10 2/1 2/1
Minnesota 14 17 7.0 3-0 8-11 2/1 0/3
From the Storm's perspective, the biggest games of the weekend were San Antonio hosting Los Angeles Friday and then traveling to Connecticut to play on ABC yesterday. The Silver Stars won both challenging games to remain tied with the Storm atop the Western Conference. Because they hold the tiebreaker, the Storm needs the Silver Stars to lose to win the West regular-season crown. The schedule is still tough - at New York and home against the Sun and Sacramento - but at this point San Antonio is definitely in the driver's seat.

Sacramento losing Friday at Phoenix and the Storm winning Saturday ensured the Storm will finish no lower than third in the Western Conference. Saturday's win also brought the Storm's magic number to clinch home-court advantage in the first round (either the first or second seed) to one. Winning either of the next two games will keep Los Angeles from being able to pass the Storm with a win in the season finale on Sunday. (Between now and then, the Sparks play only Atlanta at home, so don't count on a loss from them.) Meanwhile, one more L.A. win or Monarchs loss will clinch at least third for the Sparks.

The last bit of intrigue is the race for the fourth and final spot in the playoffs. Houston and Minnesota have faltered, and the latter was eliminated by losing last night at ARCO Arena. Sacramento holds the tiebreaker on late-charging Phoenix and therefore needs only one win to clinch a playoff spot. The Mercury has an outside chance at rallying, but must sweep a season-ending three-game road trip (at Detroit, Minnesota and Indiana) and have the Monarchs lose out. Houston's situation is even more desperate. The Comets need three wins (they host Connecticut and Sacramento and finish at Chicago), three Sacramento losses (vs. Seattle, at Houston, at San Antonio) at least two losses by the Mercury AND a Minnesota loss to make the playoffs.

If three or even all four teams somehow end up tied at 17-17, the Monarchs would win any potential tiebreakers based on their strong head-to-head record against the other teams.

Got all that? We'll be administering a test later.

Stats Entering Final Week

Team stats only today. We'll look at the MVP race tomorrow when I have a chance to update my WARP spreadsheet. We start, as usual, with point differential. Here are the standings using expected full-season wins based on differential.

Team          ExpW    Team          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
San Antonio 21.0 Connecticut 22.6
Seattle 20.1 Detroit 21.5
Los Angeles 19.4 New York 18.9
Minnesota 17.7 Indiana 16.7
Phoenix 17.6 Chicago 15.3
Sacramento 16.6 Washington 10.7
Houston 14.7 Atlanta 4.5
While the West is no longer so tightly bunched in the actual standings, just 4.4 Expected Wins separate sixth-place Sacramento from first-place San Antonio. Minnesota's differential took a major hit in three losses, while Phoenix climbed to nearly catch the Lynx.

In the East, no surprises. Things are what they are at this point.

Alright, to the leaders in Offensive and Defensive Rating on a per-possession basis.

Team          ORating     Team          DRating
--------------------- ---------------------
Phoenix 106.8 San Antonio 93.8
Connecticut 103.1 Indiana 92.6
Detroit 103.1 Los Angeles 94.7
Minnesota 102.4 Seattle 94.6
New York 101.1 Detroit 97.1
Seattle 100.2 Connecticut 97.4
AVERAGE 98.7 Sacramento 97.9
San Antonio 98.5 AVERAGE 98.7
Chicago 97.7 New York 99.0
Los Angeles 97.6 Chicago 99.0
Sacramento 97.3 Houston 99.2
Houston 95.4 Washington 100.6
Indiana 93.6 Minnesota 101.4
Atlanta 92.4 Phoenix 106.8
Washington 91.7 Atlanta 106.8
The common denominator amongst teams moving up in the standings has been strong defense of late, while the teams like Houston and Minnesota that have faded have seen their defensive numbers slip as well. Phoenix actually belongs in the latter group, having gotten out of the cellar defensively for the first time in several weeks. Q took a look at the Mercury's improved D last week.

Detroit has suddenly emerged as the most balanced contender and the only team in the league in the top five in both offense and defense. The Storm, sixth in offense, is just outside that group, as is Connecticut, sixth in defense.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sunday Swoopes Update

Today was the Storm's annual season ticket holder party at The Garage in Seattle, and before fans began getting autographs, playing pool and bowling with and against Storm players, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler offered the latest on Sheryl Swoopes' status after her scary injury in last night's win over Minnesota.

Swoopes spent the evening in the hospital but was scheduled to be released today after undergoing a battery of tests that confirmed that she suffered a concussion. After she went through over an hour's worth of testing last night, Agler visited her around 11:00 p.m. after the game and reported she recognized people, knew where she was and, more importantly, knew the Storm had held on for the win.

We should know a little more about Swoopes' availability going forward at the Storm's practice tomorrow morning.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Swoopes Update

Quickly, the latest on Sheryl Swoopes' condition from Storm Head Coach Brian Agler after the game:

"She was unconscious on the floor, and then she did come to and recognized the people who were out there. She had feeling and she was moving her hands and moving her feet. She had feeling and mobility. She went to the hospital so were just going to check on her. I hate to say anything but things looked positive before she left. Everybody back there seemed to be optimistic."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Resilient Storm Secures Playoff Berth

There would be no backing into the playoffs for the Seattle Storm. While a Minnesota loss or a San Antonio win would have been sufficient to clinch the Storm's fifth consecutive playoff berth, the team made the point moot by rallying from a double-figure second-half deficit to beat the Chicago Sky 70-62 tonight at the UIC Pavilion.

If I were to pick one word to describe the 2008 Seattle Storm thus far, there's no doubt in my mind that word would be "resilient." That applies not only within games like this one when the Storm has fought its way back after trailing early, but also to the team as a whole in the absence of MVP Lauren Jackson.

Nobody has been more resilient than Sue Bird, who has worked with Brian Agler to slightly alter her mentality with brilliant results and become this team's rock without Jackson. There's work underway on a Bird for MVP campaign, but really all that needs to be done is make sure the media voters see a tape of the fourth quarter of tonight's game.

Bird's performance, including 13 points in the fourth quarter - more than Chicago scored as a team - forced the group of Storm employees watching the game at Fox Sports Grill to confront the question of whether it's appropriate to start an "MVP" chant while watching a game on TV. (The verdict: no, but it was close.)

Of course, you can vote for Bird for MVP now at

Resilient certainly also applies to veterans Swin Cash, Yolanda Griffith and Sheryl Swoopes, all of whom have battled various injuries and continued to contribute to the cause. Swoopes' heel has her in obvious pain, but there she was coming up with a critical block in the fourth quarter. There was Cash, bad back and all, hitting the impossible leaner that proved the final nail in Chicago's coffin. And all Griffith did in her hometown was play rookie phenom Sylvia Fowles to a draw.

Also worth noting is a resilient bench, so frequently maligned in recent seasons, that has been productive even with Tanisha Wright and Camille Little stepping into the starting lineup. Katie Gearlds scored nine points and has emerged in the second half of the season as the confident, dangerous shooter the Storm envisioned as well as a defender who can more than hold her own. Ashley Robinson stepped up with a terrific road trip, offering the energetic defense and rebounding that make her an asset.

At this point, the history the Storm is making is becoming difficult to ignore. Not only did tonight's victory tie the franchise record of 20 wins with four games left to play, it also pushed the Storm 10 games above .500 for the first time in team history. If the Storm could hold San Antonio and Los Angeles at bay and earn the top seed in the West playoffs, that would also be one for the record books, as the Storm has never won the regular-season Western Conference crown. Although the Silver Stars still have the inside track for the top seed thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Storm, their schedule is challenging the rest of the way, including tomorrow's showdown with the Sparks at the AT&T Center.

20 wins, having the WNBA's best record with nine days left in the season ... it's heady stuff for a team that was written off in some circles after surgery ended Jackson's regular season. For this resilient bunch, not a problem.

i-design winner chosen

Several weeks ago, I posted about adidas' i-design contest allowing fans to submit their design for a shooting shirt to be worn by their favorite team. Well, the WNBA has now chosen the winning designs, including one created for the Storm by fan Rachel Gerhardt, as shown at right.

The shooting shirt shows "storms" of increasing force as indicated by the storm flags.

The Storm will wear this shooting shirt for next Friday's Fan Appreciation Night and home finale against Atlanta. You'll also have the opportunity to purchase it at the Storm Team Shop that night.

One Win Away

With the Lynx's loss to Phoenix yesterday, the Storm is within a win of clinching a playoff berth. A Minnesota loss or a San Antonio victory should also do the trick, but none of that will matter if the Storm wins tonight in Chicago. The playoff picture:

Team           W   L    GB  Storm  Conf   H/A  500+
San Antonio 19 10 - 1-2 8-10 3/2 5/0
Seattle 19 10 - 12-5 2/3 2/3
Los Angeles 18 12 1.5 1-1 10-7 2/2 2/2
Sacramento 16 13 3.0 3-0 7-8 2/3 2/3
Houston 14 15 5.0 2-1 9-8 3/2 3/2
Minnesota 14 15 5.0 2-0 8-9 2/3 2/3
Phoenix 13 16 6.0 3-1 5-12 3/3 2/3
Let's talk a little about the fourth and final playoff spot. Last night's loss was costly for the Lynx, now two games back of Sacramento. Phoenix, meanwhile, kept its flickering playoff hopes alive. Both Minnesota and Houston have head-to-head matchups left with the Monarchs and a chance to win the tiebreakers. They're virtually must-win games. Phoenix also has a game with Sacramento, but has already lost the season series and has very little margin for error the rest of the way.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Storm Cannot Clinch Playoffs Tonight

Delay the playoff clinching celebration a little bit. Via WNBA PR, Elias Sports Bureau communicated this morning that there are scenarios, like a three-way tie between the Storm, Minnesota and San Antonio, that would leave the Storm on the outside of the postseason looking in even if the Lynx lose tonight.

It's a semi-annual tradition to try to figure out how the WNBA breaks multi-team ties, and the current interpretation leaves the Storm more vulnerable. Still, the magic number against Houston is one and two against Minnesota, so the Storm could clinch as soon as Thursday with a win in Chicago and a Lynx loss.

Here's the latest playoff picture.

Team           W   L    GB  Storm  Conf   H/A  500+
San Antonio 19 10 - 1-2 8-10 3/2 5/0
Seattle 19 10 - 12-5 2/3 3/2
Los Angeles 18 12 1.5 1-1 10-7 2/2 2/2
Sacramento 16 13 3.0 3-0 7-8 2/3 3/2
Minnesota 14 14 4.5 2-0 8-8 2/4 2/4
Houston 14 15 5.0 2-1 9-8 3/2 3/2
Phoenix 12 16 6.5 3-1 4-12 3/3 4/2
Note that San Antonio holds the tiebreaker with the Storm, which is why the Silver Stars are still atop the Western Conference though the two teams have identical records.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Playoff Picture: Sept. 2

The standings in the Western Conference after L.A.'s come-from-behind blowout victory over Minnesota last night:

Team           W   L    GB  Storm  Conf   H/A  500+
San Antonio 19 10 0 1-2 8-10 3/2 5/0
Seattle 18 10 0.5 12-5 2/4 3/3
Los Angeles 18 12 1.5 1-1 10-7 2/2 3/1
Sacramento 16 13 3.0 3-0 7-8 2/3 4/1
Houston 14 14 4.5 2-1 9-8 4/2 4/2
Minnesota 14 14 4.5 2-0 8-8 2/4 2/4
Phoenix 12 16 6.5 3-1 4-12 3/3 5/1
The outcome reduced the Storm's magic number to two to effectively clinch a playoff spot. That could happen as soon as Wednesday if the Storm wins tonight in Atlanta, New York defeats Houston and Minnesota loses tomorrow at Phoenix. That would allow the Storm to individually clinch against the Comets, Lynx and Mercury, and I'm not seeing any possible multi-team tie that would leave the Storm out of the playoffs.

With their win, the Sparks have climbed within one game of the Storm. Really, however, how both teams play over the next week and a half takes a backseat to their nationally-televised season finale Sept. 14 at the STAPLES Center. That game will determine the head-to-head tiebreaker, the two teams having split the first two meetings. With a win in that game, the Storm would need at most two other wins the rest of the way to guarantee no worse than second in the West. If the Sparks win, however, the Storm would need to have a better record the rest of the season than L.A. to avoid a tie and win out.'s Playoff Picture

Monday, September 1, 2008

Defending the Fan Vote

In case you've missed the news and the button on the homepage, the WNBA and T-Mobile have opened voting for the league's MVP award to fans. The online vote, which runs through Sept. 15, will make up 25 percent of the final vote; traditional voting by the media will make up the remaining 75 percent.

The reaction to this revolutionary move has generally been negative, even from the fans themselves. To hear most of the commentary, fans will be tripping over themselves to vote for the most popular players in the league based on off-court factors with little regard for actual performance.

We've heard plenty about past All-Star voting. Well, quite frankly, All-Star voting is a popularity contest. You know why? Because it's designed to be a popularity contest. I've never looked at an All-Star ballot and seen any instruction to vote for the league's best players. If fans want to see a player like Swin Cash in 2005, who had the misfortune to be injured in the wrong half of the season, in the All-Star Game, what's wrong with that? Cash had certainly played at an All-Star level in the past.

During All-Star voting, fans are encouraged to stuff the ballot box. Of course they're going to vote for their team's players at each position, helping lift the totals of every player on popular teams and explaining why Kara Braxton was an All-Star starter last year.

While this is the first year fans votes have counted, it's not the first time they've picked an MVP on From 2003-06, it was an annual tradition. (I can't find anything from last year, though I vaguely recall a poll.) I went and dug up the results to shed light on fans' ability to pick an MVP. As you might imagine, the results are ... wait, they're totally rational.

In 2006, the fans and the media did disagree, with fans selecting Diana Taurasi, who finished second to Lisa Leslie in the actual voting. However, it's easy to understand why this happened. The voting took place with a couple of weeks left in the season, when it appeared possible that Phoenix could make the playoffs. The Mercury ultimately missed out, swinging the vote in Leslie's favor.

Other than that, the voting generally mirrored the final results. In 2005, all five players in the poll finished in the same order as they did in the actual voting. In 2004, the only discrepancy was similar to 2006 - Lauren Jackson vaulted past Tina Thompson into second because the Comets missed the playoffs.

Now, there are some loopholes in the way fan voting is being conducted that could keep the results from accurately reflecting fan sentiment. I understand the need to have a large window for voting, but things can change dramatically over the last two weeks of the season. Also, allowing a vote per day encourages fans of a single player to stuff the ballot box. Still, the notion that fans are incapable of voting intelligently for MVP, there's no evidence supporting that.

Post-Olympic Break Stats Highlighting MVP Candidates

We're back from the Olympic Break and most teams have no more than six games left in the regular season. Yet the numbers still continue to fluctuate, especially with teams affected by injuries, deals and more. Let's take a look.

How do things stand in terms of point differential? Here are the standings using expected full-season wins based on differential.

Team          ExpW    Team          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
San Antonio 20.1 Connecticut 23.2
Seattle 19.9 Detroit 20.4
Minnesota 19.7 New York 18.2
Los Angeles 18.7 Indiana 17.2
Sacramento 16.7 Chicago 16.0
Houston 16.3 Washington 11.2
Phoenix 15.9 Atlanta 4.6
The Lynx improved their differential in their first game back from the break. If they maintained it and missed the playoffs, only the 2003 Storm and 1998 New York Liberty would have better differentials amongst lottery-bound team. By the way, Phoenix's record overstates how much the Mercury has struggled this year.

In the East, Chicago is creeping up on Indiana for the last playoff spot. Surprisingly, the Sky's differential has yet to improve much since the break; it was already much better than Chicago's record.

Alright, to the leaders in Offensive and Defensive Rating on a per-possession basis.

Team          ORating     Team          DRating
--------------------- ---------------------
Phoenix 106.2 Indiana 92.6
Minnesota 103.7 San Antonio 93.8
Connecticut 103.4 Seattle 94.6
Detroit 102.0 Los Angeles 94.7
New York 100.3 Connecticut 96.8
Seattle 99.3 Houston 97.5
AVERAGE 98.5 Detroit 97.7
Chicago 98.1 Sacramento 98.0
San Antonio 98.1 AVERAGE 98.5
Sacramento 97.5 Chicago 98.7
Los Angeles 97.5 New York 98.9
Houston 95.3 Washington 99.9
Indiana 93.1 Minnesota 100.0
Atlanta 92.5 Atlanta 106.8
Washington 91.7 Phoenix 108.0
Not a lot of major movement. On the strength of Saturday's defensive slugfest in Los Angeles, the Silver Stars moved up into second place in the league in Defensive Rating ahead of the Storm. Chicago's post-break improvement has come on the defensive end thanks to Sylvia Fowles' shot-blocking presence in the paint.

With MVP voting underway at, I'm going to focus on the numbers in the MVP race the rest of the season. Here's a look at the two stats I lend the most credence: Wins Above Replacement Player by my rating system and Net Plus-Minus rating, as tracked by Paul Swanson of the Lynx. I've included the top 10 by WARP as well as a few other players that deserve to be part of the discussion in no small part because of their excellent net plus-minus ratings. Their WARP rank is in parentheses.
Player              Tm   WARP  Net +/-  Rk
Candace Parker LAS 8.2 +12.6 5
Diana Taurasi PHO 7.3 + 8.8 18
Lindsay Whalen CON 7.0 + 0.4 65
Lisa Leslie LAS 6.5 + 4.2 44
Sophia Young SAS 6.3 +15.8 2
Lauren Jackson SEA 5.6 +12.8 4
Candice Dupree CHI 5.5 + 8.3 20
Jia Perkins CHI 5.4 +10.0 12
Becky Hammon SAS 5.4 + 3.6 48
Candice Wiggins MIN 5.1 + 9.1 17

Player Tm WARP Net +/- Rk
Asjha Jones (11) CON 4.9 +10.2 11
S. Augustus (16) MIN 4.1 +15.5 3
Sue Bird (22) SEA 3.4 +20.3 1
Some thoughts:
  • We'll see how much the silly notion that a rookie shouldn't win hurts Candace Parker, but statistically there's no argument against her candidacy.

  • Lindsay Whalen is an interesting case. Her individual numbers are terrific, and I've been her biggest supporter. However, the Sun has played nearly as well without Whalen as with her, as evidenced by yesterday's win over the Storm. Asjha Jones has been Connecticut's most important player from this perspective, and stepped up yesterday. I'm not sure I'm ready to put Jones on my ballot, but I've dropped Whalen.

  • The other player who suffers by contrast to her teammate in this analysis is Becky Hammon. It's hard to justify that Hammon has been more valuable to the Silver Stars than Sophia Young this season.

  • Don't write off Jia Perkins, who comes out very well by both measures. If the Sky makes the playoffs, I could see a fifth-place vote for her.

  • Sue Bird's individual stats still aren't terrific, but net plus-minus reveals how valuable she has been to the Storm. Lauren Jackson's net plus-minus was actually better when she first left the team, but the Storm's play without her has lowered this number.