Finishing Big More Important to Seattle Than Scorching Start
They don't care that their 11-2 record is the best in the WNBA after Sunday night's 82-61 win over struggling San Antonio at Key Arena or that it's the best start in franchise history.
They pay no mind to the fact that they are 7-0 at home, or 8-0 against the teams in the Western Conference.
Or even that with just over a third of the WNBA schedule in the can, the Storm are clearly the best team in the league.
Because this is a team that knows all too well about a tough finish. Five straight years -- the last two with star Lauren Jackson sitting on the bench injured -- the Storm have gone home after the first round of the WNBA playoffs.
But what's happening right now is not irrelevant. It is a means to an end that Seattle hopes comes with a shiny trophy. It's laying the groundwork to change what has become the modus operandi at the end of the season.
"I don't pay attention to statistics, or what your record is, I just try to stay in the moment," said Storm forward Swin Cash, who led Seattle with 22 points and nine rebounds. "I think if our team can do that, stay in the moment and not get too far ahead of ourselves, we will be right where we want to be at the end of the season."
This is a team with energy and confidence, taking its cue from its rejuvenated star player.
Jackson passed on playing overseas and went home to Australia in the winter to repair her overtaxed body and the two stress fractures in her back. She came back to Seattle, signed a long-term deal, has by all accounts been refreshed and re-energized. She is averaging 20.0 points a game and has been named the Western Conference Player of the Week twice already this season, making it 16 for her career and breaking the record held by Lisa Leslie.
But Seattle is much more than Jackson, who finished the game with 19 points and 14 rebounds. The Storm are experienced with veterans such as Cash and Sue Bird, and also deeper and capable of scoring from numerous spots on the floor.
"Obviously, if you are winning that's good, you want to win," Jackson said. "But I think we are very aware of reality, that teams are very good and teams are going to start getting better in this middle part of the season."
Seattle is not just winning at this point, but winning big -- five of their six double-digits coming against conference foes. Five of the Storm's games this season have been decided by at least 19 points.
Still, caution carries the day. Coach Brian Agler said he cannot allow himself or his players to be satisfied with where they are at this point.
"We're not in the playoffs yet, we're quite a ways away," Agler said. "You can't (be satisfied) because there are so many good teams in this league and our focus right now is take tomorrow off, have a short sharp practice on Tuesday and get ready for Indiana on Friday. You can't think any farther than that."
After missing five straight shots under the basket and starting the game 2 for 12 from the floor, Seattle warmed up in front of a Father's Day crowd that included Jackson's father Gary from Australia, Seattle mayor Mike McGinn and Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
The Storm led the Silver Stars (4-7) 37-30 at the half with a 26-14 rebounding advantage and 15 points and eight rebounds from Jackson.
San Antonio rallied back to get within 39-37 in the third quarter before Seattle assumed control again with a 16-2 run. Seattle, coming off a tough stretch of three games in four days that included matchups in Indiana and New York, finished with a 46-23 rebounding advantage (San Antonio did not pull down a rebound in the third quarter) despite what Jackson called "heavy legs."
"I think we were all just tired," Jackson said.
San Antonio was led with 12 points each by Chamique Holdsclaw and All-Star point guard Becky Hammon, who is coming off a quad injury which caused her to miss two games earlier this month. But she was coming off a 21-point game at Phoenix on Friday.
"You got out-hustled and punched up in all areas of the game," said SIlver Stars coach Sandy Brondello. "I thought we were a little tougher than that. This is the best team in the league. We knew this and knew it was hard coming into their home court. But it's just so difficult."
The Storm got a serious scare when Bird left the court with an apparent knee injury. She was fielding a high pass from Swin Cash, who was chasing down a loose ball heading toward the backcourt. San Antonio's Edwige Lawson-Wade got caught underneath Bird, who lept for the pass and came down on her left knee.
She was taken off the court, but was subsequently diagnosed with a strained knee. Bird was at the end of the bench with an ice bag on her knee by game's end.
"I don't have my extension or my flexion and it basically hyper-flexed," Bird said. "My ankle kind of touched my butt, which is the layman's way of saying it. I don't normally go that far, so to be pushed that far was very painful."
Bird said she was held out of the rest of the game as a precaution.
"I was just saying a quick prayer," Cash said. "Sometimes it looks worse than it is. When I got to the bench and she said I'm OK, I was like 'Whew.' "
Jackson was concerned for her close friend.
"I don't like seeing anyone go down, but especially Sue," Jackson said.
Bird is expected to play when the Storm take the court again on June 25 against the surging Indiana Fever, the league runners-up last season who are finding their groove after a tough start. Indiana is one of the two teams to beat Seattle this season.
Cash and Agler agreed after the Storm's 11th win in 13 tries that Seattle's goals aren't found in a win-loss total, but in consistent play.
"You can get the wins, but if you are getting better, practice-by-practice, game-by-game, that's what you tend to fall back on," Cash said.