By Matthew Roberson
Looking to open the second half of its season with a much-needed victory, the Seattle Storm (9-11) is heading south for a game with the Los Angeles Sparks (14-6) tomorrow night, with the opening jump set for 7:30 p.m. PT on NBAtv. Seattle’s next four games won’t be easy, as the Storm heads to Los Angeles before squaring off against Dallas, Minnesota, and Dallas once more in Arlington, Texas. In August, six of the Storm’s nine games will be on the road.
Seattle has struggled to string together wins since starting the season 5-2. The team is playing at a .307 clip since getting off to a hot start in the season’s first month. Breanna Stewart has been the linchpin of Seattle’s team this year. She finished the first half with averages of 19.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Crystal Langhorne is putting up incredibly efficient offensive numbers. Langhorne is shooting 67.9 percent from the field this season, and her team boasts a 105.6 offensive rating when she is on the floor. The nine-year veteran also leads the league with a 68.2 effective field goal percentage.
Sue Bird is putting together yet another season of offensive mastery. Bird is scoring 10.8 points per game, due in part to her 42.9 success rate on three pointers. That number puts Bird fourth in the league among players firing at least four deep balls per game. She has been closing in on the WNBA’s all-time record for assists all season. The former No. 1 overall pick needs just 65 more to pass Ticha Penicheiro and become the undisputed WNBA assist queen.
Jewell Loyd has been one of the reasons why Seattle is one of the league’s most well-oiled machines offensively. Loyd is the only player in the WNBA to score 16 points a game while dishing 3.5 assists and shooting 33 percent or better from beyond the arc. Sami Whitcomb is crafting one of the best seasons of any rookie in the league. The University of Washington product is the only player across the association scoring five points a game in under 13 minutes while canning 35 percent of her three’s.
Both traditional and advanced statistics support Seattle’s offensive prowess. The team ranks fourth in three-point percentage, second in field goal percentage, third in assists per game and third in free throw percentage. The Storm’s 53.4 percent effective field goal percentage is tops in the league, and the team is fourth among all teams in offensive rating (104.7).
Head coach Jenny Boucek said the team is still searching for a consistent effort. In its most recent outing, Seattle let an 18-point lead at the end of the first quarter slip away en route to a loss at home vs. the Chicago Sky.
“Consistency has been, probably, our issue all year,” said Boucek. “Not just game-to-game, but within games. So, we’re still searching for that. They [Chicago] just started scoring. Our defense got a little soft, they started going inside. And it just changed the momentum of the game.”
AT A GLANCE: SPARKS
The defending champs are owners of the second-best winning percentage in the league (.700). Los Angeles’ record was bloated greatly by an 8-1 record in the month of June.
The Sparks have three players that participated in the recent WNBA All-Star game in Seattle. Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray all represented Los Angeles in that game, and deservedly so. Ogwumike’s 20.3 points per game is third in the league. Parker and Gray are both good for 15 points each time they hit the floor, and both hit over 33 percent of their three balls. Gray’s 50.0 clip from downtown makes her the best three-point shooter in the league. LA leads the WNBA in field goal percentage as a team (48.1 percent) and limits opponents to 78 points per game, the second-stingiest mark in the league.
The Sparks possess a slight edge over the Storm in the series history. Seattle has a 33-34 record against Los Angeles, who they have played at least three times a year dating back to 2000. In games played at KeyArena, the Storm holds a 22-12 advantage.
In 2016, Seattle went 2-1 against LA, the eventual champions. Wins in August and September helped propel the Storm into the playoffs.
This will be the third and final time in 2017 that the Storm and Sparks will tussle. Los Angeles head coach Brian Agler, who used to man the Storm’s bench, is 0-5 against his former team in games played at KeyArena. The Sparks are 2-2 under Agler in matchups at the STAPLES Center. These squads have split the two games between them this season. LA won the season opener for both teams, in which Bird and Stewart did not play. Seattle took the most recent meeting by a score of 81-69.
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