While the game Sunday doesn’t have any playoff implications, as Seattle and Dallas are locked into the No. 1 and No. 8 seeds, respectively, the Storm wants to end the regular season on a positive note and work out any kinks before the games start to truly matter.
With the 85-77 victory Friday over the New York Liberty, the Seattle Storm clinched the No. 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs, meaning it will have home-court advantage throughout the postseason and get to begin its quest for a third WNBA title in the semifinals.
Think that’s a weight off the players’ shoulders?
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a relief,” Seattle’s Sue Bird said of securing the top seed. “We’ve been taking it one game, one week, one month at a time. And we still have a long way to go.
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“(Clinching the No. 1 seed) didn’t win us anything yet.”
And so, in accordance with that “one-game-at-a-time” mindset, the Storm’s focus next shifts not to Game 1 of the semifinals next Sunday, nor to the upcoming week-long break, but to the regular-season finale against the Dallas Wings, which the Storm (25-8) will meet Sunday at 4 p.m. in KeyArena.
After all, the Wings aren’t a team to underestimate.
Don’t let the Wings’ 15-18 record fool you. Led by Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith, who combine for 41.7 points a game, the Wings have one of the most lethal scoring duos in the league. Cambage, who broke the WNBA record for points in a game with 53 on July 17, is Breanna Stewart’s only real competition for the league MVP award this year. Cambage helped her case when she dropped 43 in the Wings’ playoff-clinching victory against the Las Vegas Aces on Friday.
The victory capped a tumultuous few weeks for Dallas, which started off 14-9 before losing nine consecutive games and firing its coach last week.
“They’re a very dangerous team,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said of the Wings. “(Earlier in the season) they were playing as good as anyone in the league … They’re very capable and very talented.”
While the game Sunday doesn’t have any playoff implications, as Seattle and Dallas are locked into the No. 1 and No. 8 seeds, respectively, the Storm wants to end the regular season on a positive note. And, given that it’ll be the last game before the semifinals, Seattle wants to work out any kinks before the games start to truly matter.
Both teams also will have to balance keeping players game-ready for the playoffs and resting the ones who need it. Dallas will have to consider its upcoming single-elimination game Tuesday, while Hughes said he plans to “do a little bit of both,” while also rotating in bench players to get them more playing time ahead of the postseason.
The only other time the Storm had as long of a break between games was during the All-Star break – otherwise, the team has had to play 33, and soon 34, games in a very condensed time frame, with most games coming within two or three days of the previous one.
And while ensuring the team can ease back into game rhythm isn’t a trivial concern, Bird said she prefers the current scenario of having a week off. After all, the team had to deal with the alternative the past two years, and it didn’t end so well — they bowed out of the postseason after losing in elimination games against Atlanta in 2016 and Phoenix in 2017.
“I’d rather have this problem than be the sixth, seventh, or eighth seed,” Bird said. “I’m OK with this problem.”
Another quirk of the game Sunday? Each squad is plenty familiar with the other, as this will mark the fourth time the two teams have matched up this season. Seattle owns a 2-1 advantage in the series, with Dallas’ victory coming June 2 in Arlington. Besides the Phoenix Mercury, which the Storm played in four consecutive games in May (two exhibition contests and the first two games of the regular season) and then later in July, the Wings will be the team Seattle plays the most during the regular season.
But Hughes doesn’t see that as much of a double-edged sword as one might think.
“We always want to learn things about us and about our opponents,” Hughes said, “and that includes tomorrow.”