Based on the 2011 WNBA Hollinger Power Rankings at ESPN.com, the Seattle Storm are ranked fifth in the Western Conference, which would lead them on the outside of the WNBA playoffs this year after winning the title last year.
With the San Antonio Silver Stars improving dramatically in the early season, the Western Conference is stacked with almost every team having "caught up" to the Storm, so to speak.
Today's 73-63 win over the Washington Mystics was sort of the perfect example of both the Storm's playoff potential and why they're somewhat surprisingly only a fringe playoff team. On the one hand, the Mystics are a team decimated by injury with center Crystal Langhorne being a late scratch today due to back pain - that the Storm allowed them to hang around for so long as they shot around 30 percent does not exactly inspire much confidence in defying the power rankings.
Then again, the Mystics game should also be a familiar scene for Storm fans: surviving lulls and coming back to win was something they did repeatedly last season. And as Richard Cohen of the blog WNBAlien describes, that's why it's hard to imagine them not being a playoff team.
WNBA Today, 07/03/2011: Storming the Capital « WNBAlien
This is part of why I still think the Storm are, at worst, a solid playoff team – even without Lauren Jackson. They might have their periods where they can’t score, or games where their offense looks out of sync, but they know how to respond. They can rise to the occasion when necessary and get things done. It happened again and again last year, and it wasn’t always Jackson that pulled it off. The likes of Bird, Cash, Wright and Little can all step up – at both ends of the floor – and make plays when it counts. That’s not going away. Of course, neither is their team defense, which is the main other reason that I don’t think this team is just going to fade into the background.
Obviously, there's a lot of season left and power rankings this early are by no means deterministic.
But just making the playoffs is going to be a far more difficult battle than it was last season so the Storm will have to continue making plays as they did today just to stay in contention for the Western Conference playoffs.