By Matthew Roberson
The Seattle Storm (14-17) will put a bow on its 2017 regular season home schedule on Sunday, Aug. 27 against the Phoenix Mercury (15-15). Opening tip is set for 6:00 p.m. PDT on NBA TV.
After a four-game winning streak that vaulted the team into the playoff field, Seattle lost a close one on Wednesday in Atlanta. Still, Seattle’s offense continues to thrive, averaging 85 points and shooting 49.5 percent from the field over its last five games. During this recent quartet of victories, Seattle is scoring 85.5 points per game and holding its opponents to 73.5, a mark of stinginess that would lead the league if extrapolated across the entire season. A win for the Storm would give the team five victories in six games for the first time since its June 6 triumph against San Antonio. Beating the Mercury would also clinch the season series against them for 2017. With Phoenix occupying the sixth seed, and Seattle in the seventh with a chance to catch them, this game could prove to be huge in deciding playoff positions. The Mercury went 6-4 in the month of July but has accumulated a losing record in August. While the Mercury has dropped, Seattle has taken advantage and stormed its way back to relevance. Interim head coach Gary Kloppenburg and his team seemingly salvaged its season with the aforementioned four-game winning streak, which started with a clutch road win at Phoenix.
Both of the previous duels between Seattle and Phoenix have been intriguing. The games have been decided by an average of six points, with each side taking one game. In big games like this, a team’s best players need to rise to the occasion. Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd have done just that in the pair of games with Phoenix this season. Stewart has dropped 20 points both times, and is averaging 8.5 rebounds with a 50 percent shooting percentage. Loyd is scoring 19 a game against Diana Taurasi & Co., dishing 5.5 assists per game and stroking 62.5 percent of her threes. Sue Bird, who is just six assists away from breaking the WNBA career assist record, is assisting at a 6.5 per game clip against the Mercury in 2017.
Since Kloppenburg took the reins, Seattle has found a renewed defensive energy. The team has a 99.7 defensive rating since Kloppenburg stepped in, a significant improvement from the 104.6 number its posted for the season. Seattle has also won twice on the road with Kloppenburg at the helm, matching the amount of road victories it had all season before his ascension. Offense has also improved. as Seattle is making 36.5 percent of its three’s and sporting a league-best 110.4 offensive rating over the last five contests.
AT A GLANCE: MERCURY
Phoenix has had a mercurial season befitting of its teams’ name. The team alternated wins and losses in a nine-game run from June 1 to July 5. Winning at home on July 5 kickstarted a four-game winning streak that was immediately followed by a four-game losing streak, including a loss in the desert to the lowly Indiana Fever. An even 8-8 road record will be on the line in this game at Seattle. Sunday night marks the end of Phoenix’s road schedule, as it closes the season at Talking Stick Resort Arena with the Connecticut Sun and Atlanta Dream.
Sandy Brondello’s troops have struggled to defend its basket since the All-Star break. A 107.7 defensive rating since the festivities in Seattle is part of the reason the Mercury are in danger of falling to the seventh seed. Defensive rebounding has been an issue as well. Phoenix owns a 68.1 defensive rebounding percentage post-All-Star, the second-worst figure in the league.
Of course, any time one discusses the Mercury, the conversation typically revolves around superstars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. Both players have played to their potential thus far. Despite missing some time with an injury, Griner still leads the WNBA in points per game. Taurasi is also in the top 10 in points while leading the league in three pointers made by a significant margin.
The Storm has a 39-28 all-time record against the purple and orange. Seattle and Phoenix have been mainstays of the Western Conference, playing at least three times a year every season since 2000. At KeyArena, the Storm has gone 21-11 vs. Phoenix.
Most recently, the Storm prevailed 98-89 on the Mercury’s home floor on Aug. 12. Stewart and Loyd each deposited 20 points. Crystal Langhorne went 8-for-9 for 19 points, and Alysha Clark notched 13 points and patrolled the glass for five rebounds. Seattle got 23 points from its reserves on that night in Arizona. Additionally, the Storm had four players (Bird, Loyd, Langhorne, and Noelle Quinn) record five assists in the box score for the first time in franchise history.
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