After the Seattle Storm's 84-75 road loss to the Tulsa Shock, coach Brian Agler stated what might be obvious given that the team is 13-0 at home.
"Well, we like playing at home," said Agler of his team that is currently undefeated in KeyArena. "We've got great fans, there's a lot of energy there for us. I expect - let's see we what [happens] Thursday against Connecticut, I'm sure there'll be a big crowd there, there'll be a huge crowd Saturday with Tulsa – that'll be a sellout there – and we'll gain some energy there. That's not the only reason, we've got to play well too but at the same time I think that we've been a pretty consistent road team too. We're going to have a winning record on the road this year, at this point we've already got nine wins so we've had the ability to go and play well. But we're just off track a little bit right now and we've got to find a way to get back on."
The bottom line is that everybody has to lose sometime, two road losses is no reason for panic, and returning home to play a slumping Connecticut Sun team might help turn things around for the Storm.
"It's always good to go home," said point guard Sue Bird after the Shock loss. "I'm sure every team would agree with me on that."
However, during the past month, things haven't gone so well in anybody's arena for the Sun, the only remaining opponent that the Storm have not played.
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Why the Connecticut Sun's season has gone south is one of the great mysteries of the 2010 WNBA season. Through the end of June, Connecticut was 10-5 and part of a four-way race for first place in the Eastern Conference. With No. 1 overall pick Tina Charles putting together one of the best seasons by any WNBA rookie, the Sun was stout at both ends of the floor and showed no major weaknesses.
Then, when the calendar turned, everything changed. Connecticut went 3-6 in the month of July and has lost its first two games in August thus far, slipping to .500 on the season and 3-8 since the hot start. After losing at New York on Sunday, the Sun now finds itself on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, two full games behind the surging Liberty.
On the surface of it, the problem appears to be that while the Sun have rebounded better over the past month, their shooting has declined, meaning their early season strengths and weaknesses have essentially flipped -- they are a team showing very different tendencies lately.
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What's happened to the Sun? The fact that their strength and weakness have flipped is perhaps one hint. They still sit at fourth in the league in points per possession at 99.76, but have the second worst field goal percentage in the league and third worst effective field goal percentage. Considering effective field percentage was a strength at one point and has now turned into a weakness means that it has declined considerably over the last month and that alone could explain why they're losing so many games. They travel to Seattle tomorrow, which will provide an opportunity to see them on national television and in KeyArena, the last team I have yet to see in person.
While fans and the media search for answers to the Sun's struggles, coach Mike Thibault suggest the problem is that they weren't as strong as people might have thought from the outset and there isn't one answer to the problem now.
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"Coaches judge their team much differently than fans or the media do," Thibault said. "There's more of a sense of reality amongst us than anybody else. I told our players, and they will tell you, that there were at least three games in the first nine, if not more, where they got scolded after the game because of how we finished or how we played or our habits in the game that weren't good. Throwing away possessions, those kinds of things.
"Our record has nothing to do with how we're playing. We're playing better in certain aspects of the game than we were early, but we're not getting better results. Part of it is turnovers. Part of it is who we're playing (better teams). It's not just one thing."
The Sun have been led this season by former UConn star and Rookie of the Year favorite Tina Charles, who has made the Sun an outstanding rebounding team this season despite their struggles to score efficiently and control the ball.
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Tina Charles has been named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month for the third straight time in her three-month professional career.
Charles averaged a double-double throughout July, leading all rookies in points (14.2 per game) and rebounds (10.6 per game), ranking second overall in the latter category. Charles also averaged a rookie- and team-best 1.6 blocked shots per contest. A career-high 27-point performance to go along with 20 rebounds and four blocked shots in a loss to the Atlanta Dream on July 7 highlighted her play for the month. In addition, Charles set a career-high in steals with four in a a rematch with the Dream, won by the Sun, 96-80.
For the Storm, the return home is an opportunity to demonstrate the resilience that they've been lauded for throughout the course of the season.
"For whatever reason this season is a grind and it's hard to really stay on top of your game," said Agler after the Shock game. "That's not an excuse, that's just reality. What you have to do is you have to find a way to dig yourself out of that rut and it happens at some point but what you want to do is not stay there very long, you want to dig out early. It'll be interesting to see how we'll respond."