Photo by Craig Bennett/112575 Media.
The Seattle Storm host the New York Liberty at KeyArena at 7 p.m. PST tonight to finish off their two-game regular season series. The Liberty beat the Storm 58-56 in their first meeting, primarily with their defense. Storm center Lauren Jackson has been cleared to play after missing most of the season due to a hip injury, although whether or how much she'll play today remains uncertain. The Storm enter this game in fourth place in the Western Conference and for more on the playoff implications, see our 2011 WNBA Western Conference playoff race storystream. For more on the Storm's season, visit our Storm section. For more on the Liberty and the WNBA in general, visit SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.
Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans tweeted yesterday that Seattle Storm center Lauren Jackson has been cleared to play although whether she'll actually take the floor tonight at KeyArena against the New York Liberty (15-11) is uncertain.
And based on the Storm's dramatic 58-56 loss in New Jersey on August 10, Jackson would be a welcome addition to the team.
Although the Storm (13-12) won the offensive rebounding battle in that first meeting, they struggled on the glass for most of the first half and Jackson would certainly help them in that regard. More importantly, Jackson would provide another interior presence on defense and offense to help balance the Storm a bit and not make them so perimeter oriented. With the Storm becoming so perimeter-oriented without Jackson, the Liberty focused their defensive attention on point guard Sue Bird almost entirely and were very effective in containing her for long stretches of the game.
However, while Jackson would provide a boost in some ways - even if only an emotional boost - her potential return should probably also be met with tempered expectations: she was not in 2010 MVP form prior to her injury and she's also not 100% now, as Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com wrote on Thursday.
That leads to cautious optimism that Jackson could be available for game duty soon. Since she is still not at 100 percent, the Storm will have to ease her into the lineup. Agler and the coaching staff are still considering whether to start Jackson or bring her off the bench, among other aspects of her return.
Regardless of whether Jackson returns tonight, the Liberty pose a challenge that has been an even more persistent problem for the Storm this season: turnovers.
The Storm committed four turnovers in the first four minutes of their first meeting and, as Ray Floriani of SB Nation's Swish Appeal put it generously, "Not how you want to start a game, especially on the road." The Liberty have been living on defense and forcing turnovers since the All-Star break and although it has been downright ugly at times, they find themselves in third place in the thick of an Eastern Conference playoff race that is even tighter than the Western Conference place race.
But for whatever happened - or didn't - in the previous game or how imposing the Liberty's defense has been, the Storm still have their KeyArena advantage even if it lost a bit of its luster after a 29-point loss to the Atlanta Dream last Saturday - the Liberty have not been quite as good on the road lately, losing four of their last five road games, including two to the 5-18 Washington Mystics.
Needless to say, winning at KeyArena will be as formidable a challenge as any for the Liberty.