More than anything, the Storm’s abundance of depth and relative fortune as it regards to health appears to be responsible for its first-place position in the WNBA standings.
Eleven-time WNBA All-Star point guard Sue Bird missed nine games this season due to a bone bruise in her left knee while the bulk of Seattle’s roster has remained intact during a condensed 22-game regular-season schedule.
Bird targeted this week to return perhaps anticipating the importance of Friday’s matchup with the Los Angeles Sparks in a battle between the league’s top two teams.
“This day was what we circled,” Bird said via a Zoom call following Wednesday’s 71-64 victory over Washington that ended a five-game layoff. “Obviously, with a bone bruise you never know but we tried to map it out in order for me to be back by today … in order to get a couple of games under my belt heading into the playoffs.
“Luckily, everything with the knee was getting better and better with each day and I’m happy to get the kinks out now so I can be ready for the playoffs.”
Before the postseason, Seattle (14-3) has a fair bit of work to do to secure one of the top two seeds, which guarantees a double bye and a spot in the semifinals.
First up, is a much-anticipated showdown against Los Angeles (13-4), the hottest team in the league that’s 10-1 since starting the season 3-3.
One of those early defeats included an 81-75 Storm win on Aug. 1.
Still, Sparks coach Derek Fisher isn’t putting too much emphasis on Friday’s rematch.
“We’ve been talking about … really falling in love with the process of becoming a champion and not being overly focused on any particular game, moment or situation,” he said. “But a real love affair with the process of being great and becoming great. That’s what Friday night represents for us. It’s a stop along the way of the process of becoming the best version of ourselves.
“Of course we want to win the game and we’re coming in planning to win. But we can’t hang our entire hopes or how we feel about ourselves on one game against anybody.”
Sparks center Candace Parker put it more succinctly when she said: “We need a win. At this point and time, you can’t look past teams.”
Parker was responding to a question about LA’s 91-83 win over Atlanta on Wednesday, but her point sums up the situation of the WNBA’s top four teams (Seattle, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Minnesota) — all separated by two games with five remaining.
The Storm is the only team that controls its own fate, but Seattle also has the toughest remaining schedule, including games against Minnesota and Las Vegas.
“You come into this thing, and you never know what was going to happen,” Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said last week after clinching a playoff spot. “Now it’s about seeding and trying to win every game that we can.”
The Nos. 5-8 seeds play single-elimination first-round games, with the winners facing the Nos. 3-4 seeds in single-elimination second-round games.
The WNBA Finals, like the semifinals, will be a best-of-five series.
— Guard Jordin Canada is listed as doubtful for Friday’s game due to a right knee injury.