Weakened Storm cut down to size
The Seattle Storm looked much smaller against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday than its roster indicated.
Atlanta thought so, too.
The Storm is still without 6-foot-6 three-time league MVP Lauren Jackson, 6-4 Ann Wauters and 6-2 Tina Thompson. Atlanta took full advantage by dominating the rebounding and earning second-chance buckets on its way to a 70-59 WNBA victory at KeyArena.
Jackson has missed all 18 games this season while training with the Australian Olympic team and will return after the league-wide break for thhe Olympics, July 14-Aug. 16. The time off should also give Wauters and Thompson time to come back from a couple of injuries that are listed as day-to-day.
But their presence was missed Wednesday. Seattle (8-10) was outscored in the paint 40-26 and whiffed on its chance to win and improve to .500 for the first time this season.
“If you add the fact that (Camille Little) had three fouls in the first quarter, that is tough on any team,” said Storm guard Sue Bird, who was held to five points after scoring a season-high 31 on Sunday. That essentially makes four players out.
“That was rough this game,” Bird said. “But the break, it is coming at a good time in terms of our injuries. People can get healthy and we can start to make a push in the second half.”
Key players being absent wasn’t entirely to blame, considering Atlanta’s top player, Angel McCoughtry, missed the game with an knee sprain.
Bird said her team wasn’t lively, and it cost the Storm – especially early and after the halftime break.
“Not to take anything away from Atlanta, but we just didn’t play well,” Bird said. “I think we just lacked some energy. I think you saw a team at times that was just a little bit out of sorts and not on the same page.”
The Storm didn’t get much going early and found itself in an 8-2 hole. Seattle was outrebounded 13-5 and shot 29 percent from the floor in the first quarter.
Just after Katie Smith made a 3-pointer, Bird found Tanisha Wright open for one of her game-high eight assists. The basket tied the game at 27-all in the second quarter.
But every time Seattle made a push, the Dream came up with big plays – including an 8-0 run to start the third quarter. Atlanta pushed its lead to 46-34 at the 4:58 mark when Lindsey Harding scored two of her 15 points. The Storm never again threatened.
The absence of veterans Jackson, Wauters and Thompson freed playing time for Seattle’s youngest players.
Reserve Shekinna Stricklen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 WNBA draft out of Tennessee, led Seattle with season-highs in points (16) and rebounds (nine).
“She, without question, played one of her better games this year,” Storm coach Brian Agler said. “She’s got a lot of talent, and really showed some good signs today.”
Alysha Clark, another reserve, scored a season-best seven points and provided some energy inside despite her 5-10 frame.
Their efforts weren’t enough to help the Storm extend its win streak, but Seattle’s outlook looks much brighter than when it started the season 1-7.
Still, an 8-10 record isn’t where the Storm was projected to be at this point after spending its offseason assembling a squad of four No. 1 picks (Jackson, Bird, Thompson and Wauters) and the all-time leading scorer in professional women’s basketball (Smith).
“This loss was disappointing,” Bird said. “We had the opportunity to be .500 going into the break and we missed it. That’s very disappointing. If we had gone out there and played a good game and lost, that is different. But I really feel we just didn’t perform, and that makes this loss difficult to swallow.”
There is no question, though, that adding Jackson, Wauters and Thompson after the break should make Seattle’s team much more dangerous.
“I think our best basketball is ahead of us,” Agler said. “We are going to get people back and healthy and have a chance to be a really good team.”