After losing their last visit to KeyArena 97-74, Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi claimed that the Seattle Storm were so good that they wouldn't lose another game.
Storm | Hot Taurasi-led Mercury ready for Storm rematch | Seattle Times Newspaper
The WNBA's reigning MVP then made a proclamation about Seattle that the media gobbled up: "I don't see them losing another game the rest of the season, really," Taurasi said.
Seven weeks later, the Storm is 20-2, and Taurasi's Phoenix Mercury looks far different from the team that limped out of Seattle on June 6. Tuesday's nationally televised game between the two on ESPN2 appears to be a sneak preview of the Western Conference finals. When recalling Taurasi's quote, the Storm's Swin Cash's head swiveled like a hawk looking for prey as she scanned teammates after practice at KeyArena.
"Who's believing what (she's) saying?' " Cash asked rhetorically of her former college teammate at Connecticut. "She's the master of blowing smoke. She's so crazy.
Although the Storm have lost one game since then, they have remained undefeated at home. However, Phoenix sits at second place in the Western Conference and although the Storm have a very safe 10 game cushion, they are not complacent after the blowout in their previous home game with the Mercury at KeyArena.
Seattle vs Phoenix Preview: Can the Mercury Mount A Challenge Against the Storm? - Swish Appeal
...with the exception of their last meeting at KeyArena, excitement always seems to sneak its way into these matchups, no matter what the circumstances.
"I think the game here was just sort of not a typical Seattle-Phoenix game," said Agler, when asked about how that blowout figures into his thinking of tonight's game. "Last year, we went overtime twice with them here and lost. So we have a tradition of playing extra minutes against Phoenix. So I would just sort of disregard the one game here."
As Agler suggested, 4 out of the last 5 games between these two have gone to overtime, dating back to 2009. Their last meeting -- a 111 - 107 win in Phoenix -- went to triple overtime. Although that might be exciting for fans, it's certainly not the outcome Cash would prefer.
"We don't wanna see that triple overtime again," said Storm forward Swin Cash. "I don't want it to happen again."
Phoenix is in the middle of a mid-season surge in which they have won 5 of 6 games, with the only loss being the triple overtime game against the Storm. As described by Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com, there are a number of reasons for the turn in the Mercury's season.
STORM: Insider Preview - Storm vs. Phoenix
Still, make no mistake, the Mercury's offense is clicking much more now than at any other time this season. For the first time all year, Phoenix has returned to its familiar perch atop the WNBA's Offensive Rating leaderboards, just edging out the Storm in per-possession scoring. StormTracker's weekly updates trace the uptick in the Mercury's famed attack. Over the last month, Phoenix has gone from averaging 108.9 points per 100 possessions to 111.2.
In more conventional terms, the Mercury's numbers are even more eye-popping. Three teams this season and twice in the last week, Phoenix has set the WNBA record for scoring - twice in matchups with Tulsa (116 points on June 12 and 123 points on Thursday) and then in Saturday's wild double-OT win over Minnesota (127 points; the Lynx had 124 to also break the record in a losing effort).
Early on, the Mercury struggled to integrate Dupree into the attack. A legitimate post scorer was something Phoenix had never had before, so it took some time for Coach Corey Gaines to adjust the Mercury offense. Now, the results have been remarkable. Dupree is averaging 24.4 points in the month of July, and her 66.1 percent shooting is second in league history among players qualified to lead the league.
Another major difference in this game is the Mercury's acquisition of center Kara Braxton from the Tulsa Shock (who the Storm beat on Sunday) who is one of the WNBA's best defensive rebounders by percentage. With the added presence inside, Phoenix believes they have an opportunity to give the Storm a challenge.
Mercury And Storm Rematch Promises To Be Great, 6:30 p.m. AZT on ESPN 2 - SB Nation Arizona
It remains to be seen if newly acquired back-up center Kara Braxton will be able to use her size and experience to help in the paint and provide the size and physical play that Smith can't.
Playing with Kara will be an adjustment as her lack of mobility is not something the Mercury are used to. Her presence on the floor changes how the Mercury will play and they've not had nearly enough time to figure that out yet. This is always the danger of mid-season trades.
The Storm are clearly the best team this season but Phoenix will be fired up for this one and need to prove that they can win in Seattle as they will have to do in the playoffs if they hope to return to the finals.
With a win, the Storm would lay claim to both the best start in WNBA and Seattle basketball history, as described by Seth Kolloen of the SunBreak.
The SunBreak | Sports | Storm Can Top Sonics for Best Pro Hoops Start Tonight
Your local hoops team is off to a 20-2 start and play tonight against Phoenix at Seattle Center. It could be today, or it could be December 23, 1993. Then, the team was the Sonics, the opponent was the Phoenix Suns. Tonight it's the Storm facing the Phoenix Mercury.
The Sonics lost game #23 (Thunder Dan Majerle went off for seven threes). So with a win against Phoenix tonight, the Storm claim the best start in Seattle pro hoops history.
Overall, this game should have all the intrigue basketball fans might want from a nationally televised WNBA game, but would probably be best experienced in person.