After hosting the WNBA All-Star Game for the first time, Seattle gets back to play at Los Angeles on Tuesday tied for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The WNBA All-Star break provided a seven-day respite for the Storm at a time when they desperately needed to get away, clear their heads and refocus.
As such, Carolyn Swords and Sami Whitcomb flew to Los Angeles to reconnect with family and friends last week while Crystal Langhorne hopped a flight to Las Vegas where she spent as much time as possible relaxing next to a pool.
Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, the Storm’s representatives in the All-Star Game, managed to get in a little fun – particularly at Bird’s party for the All-Stars last Friday — during a three-day whirlwind that included charity events, photo ops, the star-studded exhibition that was won 130-121 by the Western Conference and a forgettable three-point contest performance from Bird.
“This little time off has been amazing and allows you to hit the pause button on the season,” said Bird, who finished last in the halftime shooting competition – the only downer in a day in which she was showered with multiple ovations from the KeyArena crowd. “But when we get back to it, we really jump right in the fire again.”
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With 14 games remaining, the Storm (9-11) begins a critical seven-game stretch that includes six road games starting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Staples Center against the reigning champion Los Angeles Sparks (14-6).
Seattle is tied with Atlanta for eighth in the standings, just 1½ games ahead of Indiana and Chicago, who are 8-13. The top eight teams advance to the postseason.
“There’s always a sense of urgency in the WNBA because the season is so condensed,” forward Alysha Clark said. “We had a lot of games in this first half that were close and we didn’t finish them for whatever reasons. Coming back after the break a focus for us is finishing games.”
In its past 10 games decided by 10 points or less, the Storm is 1-7, which doesn’t include a puzzling 94-83 defeat against Chicago in its previous outing last Tuesday.
Seattle squandered a 20-point lead early in the second period in a game that proved to be a microcosm of a season in which the Storm started 5-2 and has since lost nine of its past 13 games.
“We came out and we hit them first,” Stewart said when asked about the Chicago game. “And then they hit us the next 10 times after that.”
Tabbed as a potential title contender following last year’s first-round playoff exit, the Storm has fallen short of preseason expectations as one of the league’s up-and-coming teams.
And the tension will only increase if Seattle falls out of the playoff race.
“Sometimes on the court we’re so stressed out if things don’t go our way,” Stewart said. “No matter what it is, if we play as hard as we can, then whatever happens happens. As long as we leave it all out there, the feeling and the vibe in the locker room will be so much better.
“We need to flip the switch. I’m hoping this little break is great for us then we can get back together and get back to playing how we know we can play.”
The Storm was in a similar position a year ago when it went into the Summer Olympics break at 9-15 and tied for eighth in the playoff chase with 10 games remaining.
Seattle resumed the season with a surprising 79-72 win over Los Angeles, which sparked a 7-3 run down the stretch and a seventh-place finish in the standings.
“Maybe part of our problem has been thinking about last year too much and wanting to repeat it,” Bird said. “Yes we made the playoffs and we want to do more.
“That’s the right way to enter this season, but each season is it’s one thing and I think at times we’ve gotten really down as a team collectively when things haven’t gone our way because we almost have this image of last year being perfect. And the reality is, it’s the WNBA. It’s hard and it’s never going to be perfect.”
During its only other trip this season to Los Angeles, Seattle lost 78-68 on May 13 in a game in which Bird and Stewart missed due to knee injuries and Sparks forward Candace Parker sat out while playing overseas.
The Storm clobbered Los Angeles 81-69 on July 8 at KeyArena in perhaps their finest performance in an otherwise lackluster season.