Despite a losing record, the Seattle Storm don't appear to be in any danger of missing the playoffs.
With three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson back in action, though, they'll hardly be content to just get in.
Seattle tries for a fifth consecutive victory over the Phoenix Mercury, who could be hard-pressed to snap the longest losing streak in team history Thursday night at KeyArena.
The Storm (11-13) have controlled this series of late, winning the last four regular-season meetings including all three this year by an average of 16.0 points. Things aren't about to get any easier for a Mercury team that's yet to face Jackson, who's missed more than half the year while training for and playing in the Olympics with the Australian team.
After scoring four points and shooting 1 for 4 in her season debut, a 68-66 loss to Indiana last Thursday, Jackson scored 16 in an 84-66 victory over New York on Sunday. Seattle led 28-9 after the first quarter en route to snapping a three-game skid.
"As we get more practice under our belt, we're going to get better," Jackson said. "It was obvious the other night. Our next game we'll get better. You never know what we'll achieve."
The Storm are in fourth place in the Western Conference and appear all but locked into that spot with 10 games left, trailing third-place San Antonio by six games and leading fifth-place Tulsa by the same amount.
Despite that likely positioning, Jackson's presence should make the Storm a less-than-enviable matchup in the postseason.
"I think Seattle, now that they've got Lauren back - and when she gets in a rhythm like I know she can - I can see them getting into the playoffs and winning the whole thing," Liberty coach John Whisenant said after Sunday's blowout. " ... (Lauren) is one of the best women's basketball players in the world and Sue (Bird) is arguably the best point guard and when you've get that combination ... they'll be right in the thick of it. The fans should jump all over it and enjoy it."
While Jackson has already made her presence felt, Diana Taurasi's return Saturday didn't make much of a difference for Phoenix (4-19). The five-time All-Star sat out most of the first half of the season with a hip flexor before missing the team's first three games after the break due to having a wisdom tooth removed.
Playing in her third league game of the year, Taurasi scored a team-best 19 points in an 85-72 loss to Indiana - the Mercury's 10th in a row.
"We've been running the same stuff for a long time so it felt like I never left ... it's been a couple long months but I felt good out there," she said.
"You win some, you lose some. I think at this point, we really want to make sure we get better every single day. Is that necessarily gonna be winning games? You know, maybe not, but we know (Saturday) we put an honest effort."
Phoenix has been outscored by an average of 15.5 points during its skid.
- Lauren Jackson
- Seattle Storm
- Phoenix Mercury