As described in yesterday's SBN Seattle feature, the Seattle Storm's game against the Minnesota Lynx tonight marks the 17th game of their season and the final game of the regular season series between the two teams making it an ideal time to take stock of the Storm's season and how they have measured up against the team with the WNBA's best record.
Three patterns from the Storm's season are present - and starkly so in some cases - in the series, which the Lynx lead coming into tonight.
- The Storm have relied more on point guard Sue Bird than any team has relied on their point guard. On a number of occasions, Bird has carried the Storm. However, it's worth noting that Bird has been more of a distributor in wins (14.3 points, 6.4 assists per game) than in losses, when she has been forced to assume more of the team's scoring burden (17.0 points, 3.9 assists).
- Consistent with the Bird theme, the Storm have struggled to find balanced production from their unit as a whole with star center Lauren Jackson essentially being a non-factor this season, but players like center Ashley Robinson, guard Katie Smith, and guard Tanisha Wright have been stepping up lately. Robinson's defensive and interior scoring presence, Smith's improved shooting, and Wright's aggression in attacking the basket have all been critical improvements for the Storm lately.
- The Storm have struggled to find consistency on the road, as their win against the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday brought them to only 3-6 on the season with the other two road wins coming against cellar dwellers in the Tulsa Shock and Washington Mystics.
However, for all of that, another defining characteristic of the Storm's season was left out of that analysis: turnovers. And if the Storm intend to leave Minneapolis tonight with this series even at two, ball control has to be a focal point.
Three keys for the Storm against the Lynx:
- Winning the turnover battle: In the first 12 quarters of this series - eight in Seattle, four in Minneapolis - the team that has turned the ball over on less possessions has won 11 of 12 quarters. In the other quarter (the second quarter in Minnesota on July 16), the two teams had two turnovers apiece leaving them about even. It might sound trite to say that, but turnovers have been a much bigger problem for the Storm this season - while the Storm tend to turn the ball over more often than opponents, the Lynx are winning the turnover battle by the biggest margin in the Western Conference. Part of that certainly comes down to the point guard battle between Bird and Whalen, arguably their respective team's MVP to date. But another part is an increasingly obvious scouting report for the Storm.
Handling defensive pressure when initiating the offense: In light of the turnover problem, the formula for beating the Storm has become quite clear now and everyone from the Indiana Fever to the struggling Washington Mystics has utilized it to great effect. We saw it in the first quarter of the Mercury game on Tuesday as well: the Storm have struggled to respond to teams that pressure their guards and force them into traps along the sidelines before they can even make more than one pass to initiate the offense. In many cases, trapping defensive schemes have forced the Storm to scramble and without any offensive rhythm Bird is the player saddled with creating shots herself instead of facilitating for others.
- Boxing out Rebekkah Brunson: Another major key to both the Storm's win against the Lynx and their second half comeback in the first meeting between the two has been keeping Lynx All-Star forward Rebekkah Brunson from rebounding. The Lynx's most significant strength relative to opponents has been offensive rebounding and Brunson's case for team MVP begins with anchoring that strength. Brunson has been a dominant rebounder on both ends this season, but her offensive rebounding in particular has helped the Lynx stay at the top of the conference in second chance points this season while the Storm have been last in the league. Rebounding is about effort and the Storm have proven that they can own the boards when necessary. Tonight they'll need that.