Early in the season, opposing coaches have made it apparent that there is a league-wide respect for the Storm and its potential in the coming years. Even when Seattle was on the losing side of the contest, coaches have emphasized the club’s bright future with back-to-back No. 1 picks Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart leading a young core.
“I hate to think what Stewart is going to be like in the next couple of years,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said after their game in Seattle. “Her and Loyd together – holy smokes.”
Loyd (22 years old) and Stewart (21) are already in the league’s top 10 in scoring, and both have shown flashes of dominating the game in many areas. Veteran point guard Sue Bird is still playing at an All-Star level, averaging a league-high 5.5 assists per game. Fifth-year forward Alysha Clark is thriving in her increased role.
And yet, after Sunday’s 96-84 loss to the Minnesota Lynx, Seattle finds itself near the bottom of the standings with a 4-9 record. Since a convincing win over the Phoenix Mercury on June 4, the Storm has dropped five of its six games.
“The season can go by so fast and before you know it, you can find yourself in a big hole,” Bird said. “Right now we need to wake up and realize what’s happening, and we have to start winning.”
The Storm has had very little practice time during the last two weeks, which featured a grueling road trip of four games in seven days. Seattle went 1-3 on the trip, defeating the Indiana Fever in the lone victory. Just two days after returning home, Seattle faced an undefeated Minnesota squad that was coming off four days of rest.
This week, as the players finally have a chance to catch their breath and spend some time on the practice court, head coach Jenny Boucek is dedicating most of their time to the defensive end.
“We have a lot of work to do defensively, we just do,” Boucek said. “We’re not on point and in sync with what we want to do. …We’re trying to get our defense established and just get more chemistry at that end of the floor. For whatever reason, our offensive chemistry has come a little quicker than our defensive chemistry.”
Despite having the rim protection of Stewart – she is among the league leaders in blocks and rebounds – Seattle ranks second-to-last in points allowed per possession this season. Minnesota and Dallas, its last two opponents, have shot better than 52 percent from the field and dominated the Storm on the glass.
On the offensive end, after making less than 30 percent of her shots in a five-game stretch, Stewart has found her touch in the last two outings. The reigning Rookie of the Month scored a season-high 29 points on 8-of-11 shooting at Dallas and 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting against Minnesota.
Because many of the recent losses were tightly contested late in the fourth quarter – including a one-point defeat at Connecticut in which Seattle led almost the entire game – the Storm remains confident the victories will start piling up.
“I think we’re encouraged,” Stewart said. “We are a young team, and we’re playing a lot of tight games. We just have to be able to get over that hump and get the win.”
“When we watch the film, we see that it’s just a couple more stops, a couple more rebounds that would have done it,” Loyd added. “So we’re right there. We’re making the right steps to get over the hump.”
Seattle has a chance to get back on track Friday night, when it hosts Connecticut at 7 p.m.