So much for the WNBA changing the playoff format to 1-1-1 versus the higher seed traveling for Game 1; then returning home for the final matchups. In the Seattle-Los Angeles opening round series, the Sparks took a gamble and stayed put after losing to the Storm by one point in Saturday’s season finale at KeyArena.
No travel gripes from them. The format will come into play in the later rounds.
“I’ve always thought the worst part about the 1-2 format was the travel,” Storm All-Star Sue Bird said. “I never thought it was fair that the home team (traveled first). And the reason why I say this is not even the first round – although when we played Houston, that was far – but the Finals when we have to play Connecticut (2004)? That was hard. It was every other day and going there from here is not easy. I never thought it was fair that the team, with home court advantage traveled more than the other team. The irony is LA stayed, so there goes that.”
Both teams are tired from a draining regular-season, yet have shaken the travel legs after flying into Seattle for the second of a back-to-back set. That can only mean Game 1 of the postseason will be even crisper. Plus, there’s the addition of one 6-foot-5 Australian named Lauren Jackson, who hasn’t played a WNBA postseason since 2007. Jackson, who suffered from season-ending ankle and back injuries the past two postseasons, has won championships recently in Russia and her native country.
“You go in on a high knowing we have all of our players, we have all our ducks in a row,” Storm G Tanisha Wright said. The team rested majority of its starters earlier this month, clinching the Western Conference regular-season title in July. “We’ve got to be confident about that. And we are a confident team about what we did on the basketball court this year, so we want to keep the momentum going.”
In 2004, you felt a shift in aura around the Storm at the beginning of the postseason. I believe it was raining that first day of practice and the players had this glazed over look in their eyes like a shark eating its prey. This season there has been that look all summer, especially when the fourth quarter rolls around. The Storm won 13 of its 28 games when trailing entering the final period.
Players don’t say they specifically want to just get out of the opening round. They really have never taken it further than one game at a time, only acknowledging the season would be a joke if they didn’t win a championship. The Storm (28-6) has been knocked out of the opening round of the postseason every season since winning the title in 2004 and the past two playoffs by Los Angeles (13-21).
“Obviously that kind of thing is in the back of your mind. Everybody, the media, you guys want to talk about (how) we played LA the last five series and lost the last consecutive years — whatever, whatever,” said Wright, who has never advanced in the postseason since being drafted by Seattle in 2005. “But it’s just a clean slate. We know LA is a good team. We saw that the other night in terms of how they’re going to play us. So, we just need to focus on coming in and trying to do things differently — make tweaks to what they’re going to do and capitalizing on the things they give us.”
Sounds easy enough. And this could be the first time in six consecutive postseason tries the philosophy actually works. Here are some other views on the Seattle-LA first-round matchup and a look at matchups elsewhere in the league:
RING OR BUST: Storm G Svetlana Abrosimova returns to win. By Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times
NORM!: Storm vs. Sparks; Where everybody knows your name. By Todd Dybas of The Seattle PI
PARIS FORGOTTEN: Sparks have hard-won confidence. By Mellisa Rohlin of The Los Angeles Times
DOMINANCE?: Seattle taking nothing for granted. By Michelle Smith of Fanhouse
BEAT LA!: Storm faces old nemesis with star Lauren Jackson. By Mike Allende of The Olympian
MONKEY SHAKE: Storm tries to forget past playoff busts. By Tim Booth of the Associated Press
POINT TAKEN: Bird and Penicheiro capable of winning without scoring. By Q McCall of Swish Appeal
BREAKDOWN: Three strengths for each WNBA playoff team. By Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com
OTHER SERIES: Seattle heavy favorites, but three other first-round series, too. By Vin A. Cherwoo of the Associated Press
YUMMY CAPSULES: Capsules for the WNBA first-round playoff series. By Vin A. Cherwoo of the Associated Press
HOMETOWN SPOTLIGHT: Heart healed, point guard leads New York Liberty. By Brian Heyman of The New York Times