By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The Seattle Storm aren’t exactly setting the WNBA on fire midway through the 2013 season.
They are, however, are exceeding many preseason expectations.
The Storm are exactly halfway through the 34-game regular-season schedule and play host to the Phoenix Mercury tonight at KeyArena, looking to win their second consecutive game after previously losing seven of their past 10. Seattle entered last weekend’s all-star break with a 7-10 record, which is good enough for fourth in the Western Conference and would qualify the Storm for the postseason with the fourth and final seed from the West if the playoffs started today.
“We are a team that has had some good wins and we are a team that is still improving because we have multiple new people playing significant minutes and we have a couple of young players playing significant minutes,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said. “If you ask people that make projections before the season, everybody thought we would be the worst team in the league. I guess it could still play out that way, but we think we still have our best basketball ahead of us.”
With point guard Sue Bird and center Lauren Jackson both out for the season with injuries, not many were using playoffs and Seattle Storm in the same sentence prior to the season. The reality is the Storm have an opportunity to make the playoffs. They enter the second half of the schedule with a 11/2-game lead over San Antonio and a 21/2-game lead over Tulsa for the fourth seed in the West.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs and right now we are in the ballpark of doing that,” Agler said. “We need to keep improving as a team and that’s really what our focus is. It’s a very competitive league and we are going to try to keep getting better.”
The Storm turned heads early in the season, starting with a 4-3 record that included a three-game winning streak. They followed that up by losing three consecutive games and five of their next six, Seattle closed out the first half of the season with a 73-66 victory over Los Angeles, which has the second best record in the West at 12-6.
Despit the Storm’s ups and downs, the team can learn and take positives from both the victories and the losses, Agler said.
Without Bird and Jackson, offense has been a struggle this season. There have been standout individual performances like Tina Thompson’s 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in the recent victory over the Sparks, one of her highest outputs of the season, But the fact remains that the Storm managed just 73 points against Los Angeles, only about four points better than their league-low 69.12 average.
“We have a been a team that’s had some significant lulls offensively during the courses of games, both in wins and losses,” Agler said. “We need to be more consistent that way.”
As a team, the Storm are largely reliant on a balanced offensive attack and have four players averaging 10.4 points or better. Forward Camille Little leads the Storm at 12.4 points per game.
“I think what I would like to see is us maintain a balance across the board and maybe across the board all of those numbers rise two to three points,” Agler said. “And then get some other people like Shekinna (Stricklen) and Noelle (Quinn) to really step up in that kind of a way.”
Stricklen is averaging 9.1 points per game and Quinn is averaging just 4.6 going into tonight’s game.
Defensively, the Storm are right where they normally are, among the best in the league. They allow 73.35 points per game, which is third-best in league.
That staunch defense has to continue in the second half if the Storm are to return to the postseason, Agler said.
“I think on the defensive end we need to be an elite team in the league,” Agler said. “We’ve shown signs of that at times and other times we haven’t.
“I think if we can really control the game with our defense and make it difficult on our opponents to score than I think we can compete with most teams. I think we are a team that is still getting better in that area.”
If the Storm do qualify for the playoffs, it will be a record 10th straight appearance — a fact that is not lost on the team.
“This organization has been in the playoffs nine straight years, a string that has never been matched by any other team ever and we take a lot of pride in that and we want to try to continue that,” Agler said.
“We see ourselves in the playoffs,” Agler said. “I have no idea what that is going to take, although I do know it is going to take us to keep improving.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.