SEATTLE — If the season series against the Minnesota Lynx is any indication, the Seattle Storm are in a world of trouble in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Storm’s chances of catching the Phoenix Mercury for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference faded away as the Lynx cruised to a 73-60 and a four-game season sweep of Seattle Tuesday night. The Storm’s loss, coupled with the Mercury’s victory over New York, clinched the third seed for Phoenix.
With Minnesota’s victory, the Lynx locked up the top seed in the Western Conference for a third consecutive season.
What that all means: Minnesota, the team Seattle hasn’t been able to figure out how to beat in 2013, is the Storm’s first-round playoff opponent.
“We haven’t been able to put a full game together (against Minnesota),” Storm guard Tanisha Wright said. “Tonight, I think it was mostly turnovers that led to their transition that led to easy baskets.”
The Storm turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and 17 times in the game and were outscored 20-2 on fastbreak points.
Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen scored 17 of her 19 points before halftime. Minnesota outrebounded Seattle 36-20 and 12-4 on the offensive glass that led to 12 second-chance points.
“We need to be able to play a full 40-minute game taking away all of their strengths,” Wright said. “Their strengths are fastbreaks, points off turnovers and offensive rebounding and then guard them in the half court. We need to be able to do that.”
Wright led Seattle and was the only Storm player to score in double figures with 14.
Alysha Clark made all three of her field goal attempts (all 3-pointers) and finished with nine points, but left the game in the third quarter with a sprained right ankle. Starting point guard Temeka Johnson missed the game with heel pain, giving the Storm just three bench players after Clark’s injury. Both Clark and Johnson are day-to-day.
Minnesota outscored Seattle in every quarter of the game and led by as many as 24 before the Storm closed the gap as both teams went to their reserves in the game’s final minutes.
The 13-point loss was the closest final margin of any game this season again Minnesota, but the games all followed a similar pattern — the Lynx established a lead early, built on it in the second and third quarters and sat on it late.
Seattle faces Tulsa for two consecutive games before traveling to Minnesota for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals sometime late next week in a best-of-three series.
The short series format is something that could benefit the Storm. Though they have yet to beat Minnesota this season, if they can find a way to steal Game 1 in Minnesota, they can give themselves a chance to come home and close out the series.
It sounds much simpler than it will actually be.
“We feel whenever they play against our half-court defense we have a way better chance of being successful and we are way more successful when they’re playing against our half court,” Wright said. “The nice thing is, defensively we’ve been better every game (against Minnesota) in terms of points scored.”
The Storm’s only home first-round playoff game will be played at the Tacoma Dome because of a scheduling conflict at KeyArena.
Wright said putting a full game together is a matter of stopping Minnesota’s spurts and head coach Brian Agler said he isn’t sure how close his team is to having one of those games.
“I have no idea,” Agler said. “I think we will worry about that about a week from now.”
Thursday’s game against Tulsa will be the Storm’s first opponent other than Minnesota since Aug. 29. After three straight double-digit losses to the Lynx, logic would say the Storm would be happy to face another team, but Wright disagrees.
“We’re competitors,” she said. “You want to be able to play them 50 times until you get a win. We’ll see them again. That’s where we’re at, we’ll see them again.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.