You hear the Seattle Storm players say this repeatedly: the past with the Sparks is simply irrelevant to this team in this year against this Los Angeles Sparks team.
As much as the Storm have four players who never experienced the first round losses to the Sparks in three of the last four years, two of the Sparks’ leaders established themselves with other teams around the league and superstar forward Candace Parker is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
But more importantly, the Sparks have been playing considerably differently without Parker in lineup partially because the ball has been distributed around to their stars differently based on their performance against the Storm on Saturday. With the Sparks definitely peaking late in the season to the point that they were a much different team in August than the rest of the season. Here’s what we might be able to state:
What the Sparks need to do to win
Where the Sparks improved significantly in the second half season was in cutting down turnovers, which is good because they were third worst in the league in points off turnovers allowed. Where they were at their best on Saturday is when they moved the ball around, forced the Storm to play defense for the majority of the shot clock, and waited for gaps in the defense as the Storm rotated. Another major factor was rebounding – the Storm are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league and if the Sparks don’t keep them off the boards, they’ll be in trouble.
What the Storm need to do to win:
The Achilles heel of the Storm all season has been turnovers that make their second ranked offense less efficient. In the last two home games they’ve had an interesting trend where their turnover percentage actually goes down in the fourth quarter — last game they had one. Agler claims the reason for the improved ball control in the fourth quarter has been that they got the ball in the hands of the right players — Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright. Other than that, it’s a matter of rotating on defense and staying with possessions when the Sparks try to mix up the pacing by taking good looks early in the offense or slowing the game down to a crawl.
Prediction: Storm in two
Ultimately, it’s hard to imagine this game going a whole lot differently than the Storm’s season has gone: simply two balanced and too talented for the Sparks to keep up in a series. That said, given the outcome of Saturday’s game, there’s no reason to believe they’ll blow the Sparks out either.