Mercury host Storm in Olympic sendoff
By KATE HEDLIN
The Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury each want to believe they can make a run after the London Olympics.
Only one will enter the extended break on a positive note after Friday night's meeting in Phoenix.
Seattle seemed to show evidence it was turning things around after a 1-7 start by winning five straight, but it's lost three of its past five after falling 70-59 to Atlanta on Wednesday.
The Storm (8-10) scored 12 points in the first quarter and never led while being held to 39.6 percent shooting overall. Seattle has scored 59 points in each of its last three losses - which have come by an average of 17.0 points - and is the lowest-scoring team in the WNBA at 69.6 points per game.
"We clearly did not play well," said Sue Bird, who had five points while attempting a season-low six shots. "Not taking anything away from Atlanta, but we just did not play well."
Bird and the Storm will get some help after the month-long break with the return of three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, who has been training with Australia, and eight-time All-Star Tina Thompson, who's been dealing with a sprained left knee and ankle. They are also optimistic leading rebounder Ann Wauters, who missed the last four games with a strained left Achilles, will be healthy.
Despite knowing his club will go into the break with a sub-.500 record, coach Brian Agler isn't too concerned.
"There's a lot of basketball left to play," Agler said. "I don't think there's any question we're going to keep getting better. ... Obviously it's going to be good to have those people healthy and playing."
Phoenix (4-14) is similarly optimistic about a second-half run as it hopes to get Diana Taurasi back from a strained hip flexor that's kept her out 16 games this season.
Still, the Mercury have lost five straight after Tuesday's 90-71 defeat to Los Angeles. They trail the Storm by four games for the Western Conference's final playoff spot, but Friday's game is the first of four more with Seattle.
Candice Dupree sat out her eighth game in the last nine with a knee contusion Tuesday while Charde Houston left with a knee injury in the second quarter.
"It is definitely difficult when we're playing with seven or eight players," said DeWanna Bonner, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. "We're short-handed right now. ... The break is coming up, so that'll be good for our team."
The lack of bodies has been difficult for Phoenix, which led the WNBA in scoring in 2011 at 89.0 points per game but has been limited to 77.6 this season.
The Storm took advantage of the Mercury's woes in an 83-68 home win last Sunday, the first meeting between the two since last season's West semifinals. Bird scored 26 of her 31 points in the first half.