Shock-Storm Preview

TOM CASTRO (STATS Senior Editor)
The Associated Press

The Seattle Storm will have had six days off since their last game. Along with rest, the extended break has given them quite a bit of time to ponder their recent struggles.

Though the Storm hold a 5 1/2-game lead for the final Western Conference playoff spot, they'll be looking to end a late-season slump as they host the improving Tulsa Shock to open a home-and-home series Thursday night.

Seattle (11-14) has been off since a 75-68 loss to Phoenix last Thursday, its fourth defeat in five games - all at home. Though the Storm have a comfortable edge over the Mercury and have nine games left to Phoenix's eight, the Mercury had won two in a row before being routed 87-59 at New York on Wednesday.

Phoenix also has star Diana Taurasi back after health issues cost her most of the season.

The Storm's best player has also returned, but Lauren Jackson is still trying to regain her MVP form. Jackson scored six points and shot 2 of 8 from the field against the Mercury, giving her 26 points in her three games since returning from the Olympics.

She has averaged 19.1 in her career.

"I think that we're a team that's in transition right now," coach Brian Agler said. "We're bringing people in and we're going to try to get better and make the playoffs."

Seattle's other star, point guard Sue Bird, had eight assists last Thursday but scored eight points and shot 3 of 9. Bird had averaged 16.3 points in her previous three games.

"I think we just had a bad game," she said. "They had a good game and we had a bad game. We need to figure it out quick. There are only nine games until the end of the season and that's not a lot of time."

Two straight contests against Tulsa could help the Storm get back on track, as they've taken both meetings this season by double digits to extend their winning streak in the series to eight.

Bird should be especially happy to have the Shock coming to town. She scored 27 points in a 76-58 home victory over Tulsa on June 1 and hit her first nine shots before finishing with 21 points in an 86-73 road win June 15.

Despite their 6-20 record, the Shock have played much better of late, going 3-2 in their last five games. Tulsa knocked off Atlanta and Los Angeles in back-to-back contests before falling 92-83 at WNBA-leading Minnesota on Friday.

The Shock, playing for the third time in four nights, led 56-48 at halftime before the Lynx outscored them 29-11 in the third quarter.

Riquna Williams had 21 points and Ivory Latta added 19 for the Shock, whose reserves - the league's top-scoring backups - outscored their Minnesota counterparts 31-0 in the first 20 minutes.

"We're building chemistry right now," Latta said. "The coaches told us to be patient and when the chemistry comes, the wins are going to come."

Seattle travels to Tulsa on Saturday as the teams close out their season series.