There's every reason to believe that the Seattle Storm will sweep their five-game regular season series with the Tulsa Shock tonight and clinch a spot in the 2011 WNBA Playoffs when the two teams meet at the BOK Center tonight.
The Shock's 3-26 record speaks for itself to an extent, their 96-74 loss in Tulsa to the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday doesn't exactly do much to change perception, and the Storm have won going away in the last three meetings between the two teams.
But the Shock are also a hard team to figure out game to game.
In a season with changes to the coaching staff, personnel, rotation, and style of play it's just hard to know what to expect from them right now. Despite Tuesday's loss to the Mercury, though, the Shock have been playing noticeably better and earned themselves consecutive wins over the Connecticut Sun and Los Angeles Sparks last week.
So although the Storm beat the Shock on the night before their win in L.A., Storm coach Brian Agler had seen signs of improvement as quoted by Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com.
"I could just sort of tell the way they were starting to play they were going to wreak some havoc the rest of the way," Agler said after Tulsa put together a winning streak. "I can't tell you this is it for them. They're playing much better. They're playing with a purpose. They're going to be competitive."
The Shock's two wins were essentially the Shock's best two-game stretch of the season - if not much to go on - and hold some insight into what the Storm need to do to avoid being their next victims.
Three keys for the Seattle Storm
- Pressure their guards: The one consistent theme for the Shock lately is that they've shown much better ball control and ball movement in the last four games than they have for most of the season. That starts with vastly improved play from guard Ivory Latta who is running the show for them, but also includes more efficient play from the wing in guard Amber Holt who has also been looking to make plays for others lately. The Storm's rotations and physical play gave the Shock problems in their last meeting at KeyArena though.
Respect their shooters: The Shock are the second worst 3-point shooting team in the league, but shot a scorching 73.1 percent in the second half against the Connecticut Sun, including 4-for-5 3-point shooting. Naturally, they fell back to earth against the Mercury on Tuesday shooting only 5-for-18 (27.8 percent), but they shot 41.6 percent in those two wins over the Sparks and Sun. A lot of that was a matter of the Shock moving the ball better to find open scoring opportunities combined with some defensive lapses by the Sparks. But sustaining the level of shooting efficiency for an entire half that they showed against the Sun is impressive for any team, 26 losses or not. Although it's out of character, it was one of the more surprising elements of those two wins.
- Match their energy on the boards: Pelton described the problems the Storm had containing Tiffany Jackson last week and she was arguably the MVP in the Shock's win against the Sparks last week with a double-double. But the Shock have started to establish something of an identity of outrebounding opponents recently and Jackson probably exemplifies that while the four boards that 6-foot guard Karima Christmas got against the Connecticut Sun probably epitomize it: they crash the boards hard and don't stop working, despite a difficult season and the odds stacked against them every time they step on the court.