SEATTLE — No Lauren Jackson. No Sue Bird. No problem.
Jackson is not expected back with the team until early next week and Bird left Thursday night’s game against the Phoenix Mercury at the end of the first quarter with the stomach flu, but, led by Camille Little, the surrounding cast stepped up and led the Storm to a 72-58 victory.
The Storm improved their record to 10-10 and are at .500 for the first time this season.
“I thought at some point we are going to be pretty good,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said. “And I’m not saying we’re good right now because we’ve got a lot of improvement to make, especially just getting everyone on the floor together. But this group has worked real hard. They’re a real solid group that has good chemistry.”
With all six of their August games at home, the Storm have a great opportunity to gain ground on the three teams above them in the Western Conference. Seattle hosts Los Angeles on Saturday. The Sparks currently have the No. 2 seed in the West and are 41/2 games ahead of the Storm.
Bird’s status for Saturday’s game remains uncertain. Agler said the stresses of the past month might have finally caught up to her.
During the WNBA’s break for the Summer Olympics, Bird traveled to London to help Team USA win the gold medal, but just before her departure overseas, she took a leave of absence from the national team to deal with a death in the family.
“She’s really had a very emotional three or four weeks,” Agler said. “The travel, a lot of stress and I think it’s just worn her down. She just needs to relax and get healthy and feel better, and it will be her decision (to play). We are all supporting her. We are all with her.”
Bird scored two points and had three assists in the first quarter before leaving the game. She stayed on the bench until halftime, but didn’t feel well enough to come out for the second half.
Luckily for the Storm, while Bird and Jackson had been competing in the Olympics, the rest of the team had been practicing together each day. The team’s new-found familiarity with each other was evident when Bird was forced to leave the game.
“I think the fact that we’ve all been here practicing together during the past couple of weeks really helped us,” guard Tanisha Wright said. “We all have a feel for one another. We’ve been playing with each other every day for the past couple of weeks, so we do have a little bit of an extra feel for one another.”
Little picked up the scoring in Bird’s absence, making seven of her 12 field-goal attempts and scoring 17 points.
“I think we were really focused on playing well,” Little said. “We were excited to be home. We were excited to play in front of our fans. It’s been 30 days of just practice and practice. So I think everyone was really excited and we were just ready to play tonight.
With Ann Wauters still out with an Achilles injury and Jackson still in Australia fulfilling her national team obligations, the Storm started the game with just nine players. Then Bird left. Still, the four players who started on the bench for the Storm — Svetlana Abrosimova, Alysha Clark, Shekinna Stricklen and Tina Thompson — combined to score 32 points for Seattle.
“It (bench play) is important every night,” Little said. “With our team and the injuries that we’ve had and just the way the season has been going, it’s very important that the bench continues to play well. And they are growing as young players and they are gaining confidence. They are playing really, really well for us as and it’s really, really helping.”
Rookie Samantha Prahalis paced the Mercury, who played without guard Diana Taurasi, with 15 points.
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.