The matter of greatest consequence in the Seattle Storm's regular season finale against the Chicago Sky is how much rest the starters will get with the playoffs beginning on Thursday.
Th Storm already have their playoff position locked up while the Sky will be heading home and hoping to get the franchise's first playoff berth next season. After Friday's win against the Phoenix Mercury, Storm coach Brian Agler said he would discuss the matter with the team.
2011 WNBA Playoffs: Phoenix Mercury, Seattle Storm Will Re-Introduce Themselves In First Round - SB Nation Seattle
"We talked with our team about it and if we feel like getting to 21 (wins) will help us down the road then my vote would be to try to play," Agler said. "I don't know what we'll do with Lauren (Jackson). We want her ready for the playoffs. We want to put ourselves in the best position. That's my philosophy.
"But I let the players sleep on it. When they ask me something and I'm unsure I always tell them that I reserve the right to sleep on it. So I asked them and they said that they, 'reserve the right to sleep on it.' I guess we'll know tomorrow."
Down the road would be home court advantage in the event the Storm return to the WNBA Finals this year.
The Eastern Conference leaders currently have 21 wins with the Connecticut Sun beating the New York Liberty this morning and the Indiana Fever already there with one game left. But as Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com describes, the Storm would not have a tie-breaker with either of them due to a sub-.500 record against the Eastern Conference.
But a win is now important in order to have home court advantage in the event of a rematch with the Atlanta Dream. If the Dream beat the Fever today at 2 p.m. PST, they too would have 20 wins and the tie-breaker having already beaten the Storm twice. That will be settled a few hours before the Storm even tip-off giving them time to make a decision.
Yet even if the game ends up being meaningless, the game could be a significant day for veteran guard Katie Smith who is only two points from 6000 after scoring 26 against the Mercury on Friday. Smith would join women's basketball legend Lisa Leslie and Los Angeles Sparks forward Tina Thompson as only the third player to score 6000 points. Lauren Jackson is fourth on that list with 5915 points and almost certainly would've passed the 6000 mark had she been healthy this season.
Another less likely milestone is also available for 6-foot-6 Sky center Sylvia Fowles, who can become just the second player in WNBA history to record 20 points and 10 rebounds with 30 points and six rebounds tonight. But that raises a question about the Sky: how did they miss the playoffs with such a dominant interior force?
No small part of the problem is turnovers as the Sky turn the ball over at the highest rate in the league with 17.72 turnovers per game. Unfortunately, that's at least partially a sign of Kent native Courtney Vandersloot's struggles in her rookie year out of Gonzaga University.
Despite showing glimpses of the instincts that made her the third pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft at times, Vandersloot turned the ball over 2.7 times per game and is currently 32nd in a 12 team league in assist to turnover ratio. Compounding that problem at guard is that current starting point guard Dominique Canty is 31st. For some perspective, Smith is 30th. The Sky's most efficient ball handler is second-year scoring guard Epiphanny Prince, who can make plays in averaging 3.1 assists per game but generally looks for her own offense first.
As expected when she came out of college, among Vandersloot's biggest problems is simply strength - she makes a lot of turnovers in traffic or near contact. Defensively, even average screens can stop her cold. That hasn't stopped her from making great decisions in transition, but when opponents put bigger defenders on her she really struggled in the half court. That's a correctable problem, but Vandersloot's uneven adjustment to the pros put a damper on high expectations for the talented Sky.
The bottom line is that the Sky didn't get the ball to Fowles as often as they could have because they struggled to hold on to the ball. That makes for an obvious focal point for winning a game with a Storm team that also tends to turn the ball over.