Eleven down, 11 to go.
The Storm has surpassed preseason expectations as the favorites to win the WNBA championship and reached the midpoint of this compressed 22-game regular season at the top of the league.
However, the hectic schedule doesn’t allow players time to reflect or appreciate their 10-1 record, eight-game winning streak and weeks of dominance at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
“It’s like Groundhog Day here inside the bubble,” Breanna Stewart joked. “Every day is the same.”
It can certainly feel that way for the Storm, which has been remarkably consistent the past four weeks.
Before starting the second half of the season with Tuesday’s 7 p.m. matchup against New York (1-9), we look back at Seattle’s magnificent start and take a peek at what lies ahead.
HAS THE STORM PEAKED TOO SOON?
It’s difficult to imagine Seattle playing any better than it has. The Storm leads the WNBA in offensive and defensive rating. Seattle allows the fewest points (73.3) and is third in scoring (86.4).
Aside from an 89-71 loss to the Washington Mystics in the third game July 30, the Storm has destroyed every team in its path. Seattle has led by at least 17 points in every win and has blown out teams by 37, 24, 23, 18, 18, 16, 14 and 13 points.
“This game in a lot of ways is more mental than physical,” Sue Bird said. “The ways that we can get better are in those areas. Not having mental lapses, making sure we’re on point every single possession. There’s no magical play that any team is going to put in at this point. No magical defense. It’s about not having those lulls.”
Not including the Washington defeat, the Storm has been ahead or tied in 374 of 400 minutes played this season.
FIRST HALF MVP:
In her first year back since rupturing her Achilles and missing the 2019 season, Stewart reclaimed her mantle as the team’s best player. She’s also putting herself in position to win her second WNBA MVP award. At this point, her only real competition is Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson.
Stewart is fourth in the league in scoring (18.9 points), fourth in blocks (1.4), eighth in steals (1.6) and 12th in rebounding (7.5) while shooting 51.4% from the field, 46.2% on three-pointers and 87.5% at the free-throw line.
FIRST HALF UNSUNG HERO:
Jewell Loyd has improved on last year’s statistics when she notched her second WNBA All-Star honor and defensive standout Alysha Clark had a six-game streak of double-digit scoring performances.
But where would the Storm be without Jordin Canada?
While Bird sat out with a bruised knee and Epiphanny Prince left the WNBA bubble, Canada directed the Storm to five straight wins. As a starter, she’s averaging more points (11.4 from 7), assists (6.2 from 4.5) and steals (2.2 from 1.3).
SURPRISE STAR OF FIRST HALF:
A month ago, few would have believed rookie Ezi Magbegor would have more points (78) than Bird (61) or All-Star Natasha Howard (59) at the midpoint of the season. But sooner than expected, the 6-foot-4 Australian has made herself an indispensable contributor who is the first post player off the bench.
PLAY OF THE FIRST HALF:
Two plays stand out from all the rest starting with Canada’s bounce pass between defenders from half court to a sprinting Loyd for a fastbreak layup against Atlanta. However, it’s hard to top Sami Whitcomb’s 41-foot buzzer-beating bomb that hit nothing but the bottom of the net versus Connecticut.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO STEP UP IN SECOND HALF:
Howard, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year winner, ended the first half of the season with her best performance so far. She had 12 points and 11 rebounds – both season highs – three steals and two blocks Sunday against Connecticut. Admittedly, Howard was out of shape at the start of the season, which might explain why she’s scoring 5.4 points, 13 fewer than last year.
WHO ARE THE OTHER TITLE CONTENDERS?
Las Vegas (8-2) recovered from a shaky start and has won seven straight games to emerge as a title contender. The Storm will play its first game against the Aces at noon Saturday on ABC in what could possibly be a WNBA Finals preview.
Los Angeles (7-3), Minnesota (7-3) and Chicago (7-4) are also contenders, but they’ve been inconsistent and Seattle trounced each team by a combined margin of 18.7 points.
“Everybody wants a piece of us,” said Stewart, who knows all about being a front-runner after winning four NCAA national championships with the Connecticut Huskies. “We’re continuing to show up and be ready. We’re not taking anybody lightly.”