By Matthew Roberson
Reeling from a hard-fought defeat on Wednesday at the hands of the Connecticut Sun, the Seattle Storm (8-10) is prepared for a Saturday night duel with the Atlanta Dream (8-9) on Saturday, with the tipoff set for 6 p.m. PDT at KeyArena.
For the Storm, this will be the fourth game of a pivotal five-game homestand. Prior to the loss against Connecticut, the Storm beat Los Angeles and lost to New York. Breanna Stewart has been making a convincing case to be a Western Conference All-Star, as she has averaged 24 points and 9.8 rebounds over her last five games. Stewart ranks in the top six of both points per game and rebounds per game. Jewell Loyd also enjoyed a nice offensive game on Wednesday afternoon. The third-year guard from Notre Dame put up 17 points and tied a season-high by dishing six assists.
Sue Bird surveyed the Connecticut defense on her way to 15 points and seven assists, the fourth time this season she has scored 15 or more. Entering play on Saturday, she has 2,519 assists over her 16-year career. Bird needs just 81 more to replace Ticha Penicheiro atop the leaderboard and become the WNBA’s all-time leader in assists.
Crystal Langhorne pulled off an impressive feat on Wednesday, hitting all five of her field goal attempts. She has scored 10 or more points in nine consecutive games, and 15 of Seattle’s 18 games in 2017. Langhorne’s 65.3 field goal percentage is second in the league to Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis returned to the court for the first time since May 26 and recorded two points in seven minutes.
The Storm has been one of the best shooting teams in the league this season. Its 47.4 hit rate on field goals is second in the league, just barely below the Sparks’ 48 percent clip. The team also places in the top three leaguewide in three-point percentage (36.1), free throw percentage (83.4) and assists per game (18.9). Seattle’s 53.1 percent effective field goal percentage is tops in the league, and the team gets a higher percentage of its total points from three pointers (25.8) than any team in the WNBA.
Despite her team’s ability to shoot the rock, head coach Jenny Boucek cautions against the dangers of becoming jump shot dependent, which she thought the team was against Connecticut.
“We went through stretches where we just fell in love with non-rhythm jump shots,” said Boucek. “And then we didn’t execute down the stretch. But down the stretch a lot of it is decision making. It’s making plays. It’s not always something you can draw up.”
AT A GLANCE: DREAM
Atlanta has been an even 3-3 in its last six games. The team recently orchestrated two 20-point wins at home versus the Indiana Fever and Dallas Wings before losing on the road to Phoenix on Wednesday. The Dream is 4-3 thus far against Western Conference teams.
The Dream roster features Tiffany Hayes, one of the recently named starters for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Hayes scores 16.4 points per game, makes 40.4 percent of her threes, and sinks 5.2 free throws per game, planting her in the WNBA’s top 10 in each category. Hayes is supported on offense by teammates Layshia Clarendon, Bria Holmes and Brittney Sykes, who all score at least 10 points per contest. Clarendon is also tied for first in the league – neck-and-neck with Sue Bird – in assists at 6.8 per outing.
While the Storm get a higher percentage of total points on three balls than any other team, the Dream gets the fewest. Only 16.2 percent of Atlanta’s 2017 points have been a product of three pointers. Head coach Michael Cooper, an excellent defender in his playing days, has a team that also prides itself on defense. The Dream has the second best defensive rating in the league (99.1) and sits fourth in both steals per game (8.0) and blocks (4.3).
By winning the June 13 matchup, Atlanta tipped the series history in its favor. The Storm holds a 10-11 record all-time against the franchise but has had major success at home, going 7-3 against the Dream in games played at KeyArena.
In 2016, Seattle and Atlanta drew to a 2-2 season series in the regular season. Atlanta did knock Seattle out of the 2016 WNBA Playoffs with a 94-85 win at McCamish Pavilion.
The earlier collision of these two teams in 2017 was an overtime thriller, as Atlanta was able to escape the Pacific Northwest with a 91-86 victory. Damiris Dantas scored a career-high 22 points off the bench, while Jewell Loyd led the way with 27 points and five rebounds for Seattle.
The Seattle-Atlanta matchup also conjures up memories of the 2010 WNBA Finals. Lauren Jackson earned the MVP trophy for that series, which Seattle swept 3-0 to cement its second WNBA championship.
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