Self-help gurus will often say the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging it.
So it’s curious to listen to the leaders of a Storm team that’s seemingly in the midst of a late-season collapse, which threatens to spoil its bid for a second straight WNBA championship.
Coach Noelle Quinn is hesitant to use the s-word — hint: it rhymes with lump — to describe a downward trending Seattle squad, which truth be told hasn’t played at a consistently high level in over a month.
“I would term it a growth process,” she said. “Maybe a little rough patch. Just understanding that we have some new players and we are experiencing some things together with a group that hasn’t been together before. The external factors of what our group has experienced. We’ve gone through a lot.
“You throw in the Olympics and you throw in a lot of things during the course of a season and you’re bound to hit a patch where you have to go through some adversity. I’m proud of our team. I’m proud of how hard they’re fighting and playing and figuring it out. Just hoping that we continue to fight through it together and turn the corner and play well going into the final five games.”
Since its scintillating 12-2 start, the Storm is 6-7 in the past 13 games and 3-5 in the past eight.
During the first half of the season, Seattle won games on the perimeter. In the first 14 games, the Storm was the best three-point shooting team in the WNBA and simultaneously had the top three-point defense.
But over the past 13 contests, Seattle is ranked sixth in three-point shooting percentage and 11th in three-point defense.
Of course, there are several plausible reasons for the decline.
Two weeks ago, Seattle chose to rest overworked Olympic gold medalists Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird in a pair of games, which left the Storm short-handed in a pair of losses.
Last week, the Storm crammed in a trip to the White House to celebrate that team’s 2020 WNBA championship, which preceded a loss at Minnesota to conclude a brutal five-game road trip in which Seattle posted a 2-3 record.
“We’ve kind of stumbled a little bit on this road trip and now we’re stumbling a little bit more,” Stewart said. “I don’t think it’s any cause for concern because everything is really self-inflicted. We did this ourselves. We did this to ourselves on the road and it’s just finding and getting to that point where we stop the momentum from going down and bring the momentum up.”
After Friday night’s 73-69 loss to the Chicago Sky, Seattle (18-9) has fallen 2½ games behind league leader Connecticut Sun (20-6) and 1½ games behind the second place Las Vegas Aces (19-7) in the WNBA standings.
With just five regular-season games remaining, including Sunday’s 3 p.m. rematch against Chicago (13-12), there’s still a chance Seattle obtains a coveted top-two finish, which guarantees a double bye to the semifinals.
However, the Storm isn’t focusing on the postseason just yet.
“All that matters is we get back to a place where we are having fun and we start playing a little better,” Bird said. “The reality is when you get to this part of the season, the conversation around these games changes. It becomes more about the standings, but it’s still just a game the same way it was a month ago and the same way it was two months ago. The only difference is the conversation around it. For us, we need to not get caught up in that and just try to get back to what got us in the position that we were in heading into the Olympic break.
“I said this to the team, I really don’t care what place we finish in. Obviously the first and second seeds are really important for this league the way the playoff system is set up. But I really don’t care as long as we’re playing well. I would prefer to be playing well than anything else. So the focus needs to be that. If it means unfortunately that we lose four out of six, that’s a bummer but if we get to the other side of this and get to a place where we’re playing well again that’s all that matters.”
The No. 1 priority for the Storm is fixing the offense, particularly a perimeter attack that converted just 3 of 17 three-pointers Friday.
And that starts with Stewart, who is 5 of 23 behind the arc since the Olympic break, after knocking down outside shots with regularity.
“You just keep shooting,” Bird said. “Our team currently has an identity and three-point shooting is a big part of that. … When you’re making those threes, when the team is making them, you’re not thinking about why you’re making them and you’re not thinking about how. You’re making them. You’re just shooting when you’re open.
“When individuals start to miss or teams start to miss, I think it’s a trap to try to answer questions to why is this happening. You’ve got to keep taking the same shots. You can’t let that impact the next game.”
Stewart mostly agrees, but she’s also been aggressively attacking the rim late in games for layups or fouls to compensate for her shoddy perimeter shooting.
“It’s seeing the ball go in the basket,” Stewart said when asked about how to fix the Storm’s offense. “I don’t think it’s fatigue. And also fatigue is not an option right now because we’re in our final push so everybody needs to be doing what they have to do individually to make sure that they’re ready. The mental mind over matter thing.”
Stewart said everyone — herself included — needs to relax.
“Sometimes everybody gets a little bit caught up in what’s going around,” she said. “The standings and this, that and the other. We need to enjoy where we are right now. Enjoy the fact that we’re able to be professional basketball players.
“Sometimes you lose sight of it. … When we’re a team that’s playing free flowing and having fun — even if the ball doesn’t go in the basket — you still feel like it went in the basket, and we need to get back to that.”
Stewart added: “I want to win every game that we step on the court, but make sure that our feeling and our groove is back and everybody is in a good head space. That’s the most important thing. One game at a time. We want to obviously get wins and take that feeling into the playoffs.”