Seattle Storm could still be a contender for the title, and why a significant strain could define New York Liberty

Before the 2022 WNBA season began, some believed the four-time champion would be seventh in the Seattle Storm standings and play just one game from .500 in the regular season, almost a third. In ESPN’s Presidential Predictions, two of our three WNBA writers chose Storm to go to the finals, you chose them as their championship favorites.

Yet here we are, with Storm’s season 1-3 debut and the recent two-game losing streak generating more whispers than horseback riding. On Sunday, Seattle – completely healthy for the first time this season – gave up a 13-point first-half lead in a 93-86 defeat to the Connecticut Sun.

But on Tuesday, Seattle ended the eight-game home stand, trailing by .500 points with a 72-60 victory over the Atlanta Dream.

Franchisee Lynchpin Sue Bird, a symbol of peace, said after Sunday’s defeat: “This is not the time to panic. We’re going to be able to fix things, we’re going to be better. It’s given. “

There is reason to believe he is right.

Compared to most other teams in the championship dispute, Seattle has faced significant lineup setbacks starting in 2022. Starting center Mercedes Russell started the season after suffering a non-basketball-related injury last week and still has a one-minute ban. Storm has lost five key players, Brenna Stewart, Epiphany Prince, Steve Talbot, Byrd and Easy Magbegor, in the first month of the season in the Covid-19 protocol, who have been sidelined for several games at once. Seattle’s 51-point scoring output was their worst since Stewart was formed in last week’s defeat to the Dallas Wings, but it also came without Bird and Magbegor, who have been exposed on both ends of the floor this season.

Although Seattle’s turnover was lower than most teams this off-season, it included Gabby Williams, Brian Jane and Gentle Lavender, the first two being the most important contributors. Storm players and coaching staff members stressed that now with a full roster, both in practice and in the game, they can establish good chemistry, and said things are moving in the right direction and will continue to do so.

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Bird said: “I’ve had the experience of losing players, injuries and so on in this league.” ,[COVID-19 issues] There are real reasons. They are not an excuse. … The word I keep coming back to is ‘encouragement’. I’m not stressed. I’m not afraid of those things because I think we can continue to build. We started too late. “

That being said, while the hurricane’s defense is mostly strong – it ranks second in the league in defensive ratings at 93.7) – the offensive end has legal issues that, if ignored, will lower the team’s ceiling. Seattle is ranked 10th in the offensive rating (95.8) despite winning the top four in a season (2019, when Bird and Stewart were out) since winning the 2018 Championship. Storm is shooting 40.5% off the field (11th in the league) and only 32.9% from third (eighth), where they take more shots than any other team and come last in every game free throw effort.

Storm have yet to find their bench – tied for the third-lowest points per game in the league – running aggressively and needing to convert to reach their goals. But it also doesn’t help that Byrd will have the worst season of his career in terms of shooting – 31.8% off the field, although his 37.5% 3-point clip is more respectable – and Jewel Lloyd’s proficiency is mild.

Nevertheless, he, despite not being generally prone to turnover, swung the ball 19 times against Dream, just to win the latter, and left a two-point lead in several games (some of which came off his bench). Happened together). In response, players have an internal focus on maintaining aggression.

However, it is not just a matter of not getting shots. Second-year head coach Noel Quinn said on Tuesday that the team needs to put players in space to be more successful and help them score easily.

“Teams know our stuff. They’re loading, and we’re not a team that goes downhill and blows people up and comes in the ring and gives you pounds,” Quinn said in just the beginning. “It’s a matter of getting bigger and getting better in our things, be it our distance, not being static backwards, cutting, screening, movement, which helps to loosen the defense, also helps the movement of the ball.”

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The Storm knows this upcoming five-game road swing – which includes matchups against the Dallas Wings and the Connecticut Sun, both of which have recently lost to Seattle – is a major strain. The victory over Sun, who finished second in the standings, would help Storms re-establish itself as a contender for the championship, so many thought it was.

Whatever happens in the next two weeks, however, shows that last year’s playoff success could come on time.

Quinn said, “The thing I always think about is getting Chicago out of adversity.” They won a championship and that was it. [16-16],

It also helps if you have an all-time assistant WNBA leader, a two-time Final MVP, a three-time All-Star and a potential best player candidate as your foundation.

Freedom back on track?

Things are looking up in Brooklyn. Liberty have won three of their last four games and announced on Wednesday that they have signed the Marine Johans for the rest of the season for their first appearance with the franchise since 2019.

Of course, New York’s hot streak came against teams that were currently on the verge of losing the playoffs, but they also suffered a major blow to Elisha Clark-less mystics. Sabrina Ionescu is on fire late, averaging 26 points per game (3 to 47%) and five assists on 57% shooting. Han Tzu, also in his first WNBA season since 2019, is making a difference.

If Ionescu, who has been playing more than a ball late, could become a star, then New York has a promising chance to change their season, if he has shown himself to be more consistent – and with talent. That player returns from injury (DiDi Richards may return immediately) or late arrival (Rebecca Allen and now Johannes).

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After facing the heat on Friday, Liberty has the brutal tension of the game against the Chicago Sky, Washington Mystics, Storm, Sun and Dream (twice). How they end June will indicate a lot about what the team is capable of, especially against high-potential teams as they want to return to last year, not just in the post season.

Best Game of the Week: Chicago Sky-Connecticut Sun.

Friday 2021 WNBA semi-final match (7 pm ET, Twitter) Two teams for the title this season, as well as two of the three teams with three or more remaining to start in 2022. Connecticut will take revenge last year. As a result, the top-ranked Sun fell to the final champion Sky in four games.

Julie Almond could begin her season this week (and make her debut with Sky after trading Indiana Fever in the office) and hope to deepen Chicago’s backcourt. Meanwhile, the Sun is making a successful road trip with four games in six days, beating Aces, Phoenix Mercury and Storm during that time.

John Quell Jones had a great week since the summer began; After Jasmine Thomas ‘season-ending ACL injury, she hurriedly throws the ball into Alyssa Thomas’ hands to see how the Sun engages her.

Fantasy women’s basketball picks

Who to start: The emergence of Magbegor for Seattle in early 2022 is a bright spot on both sides and will be the key to a successful road swing to come.

Although he has had some ups and downs early in the season, Ionescu is a late red-hot for Liberty, and he is a must-have for the weekend when New York has to face Indiana.

Now is a good week for any Vegas player to get started, as the Aces have to contend with struggling Sparks (who are particularly vulnerable defensively), although Jackie Young’s position on Saturday is unclear.

Tip: Allemond will be back in the sky soon and will be a great pickup for your Fantasy League.

Who to sit on: Sophie Cunningham has been out for a few weeks due to a elbow injury.

While not explaining the seriousness of the issue, Elena Dele Done dropped the Mystics game on Wednesday with a stiff back. Given his injury problems, it would be wise to bench him right now.

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