First Round Team Preview: Seattle Storm

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In a blink of an eye, it’s September and playoff time in the WNBA. It seems like just yesterday that the news of no Breanna Stewart and no Sue Bird was rocking the WNBA world. Now, a team lead by forward Natasha Howard must defend its title as a No. 6 seed. The defending champs will play the 2017 champs, the Minnesota Lynx, in an elimination game on Wednesday, September 11 at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN 2.

Reasons Why Seattle Will Advance

Season Series Wins

Seattle won the final three games of the season series en route to a 3-1 record. The only loss came on the road, a 72-61 loss on May 29. In that first game, Seattle simply could not score. It shot 36 percent from the field and a mere 13 percent from behind the arc. The Storm couldn’t come back after trailing 22-9 in the first.

The second game saw Jordin Canada’s breakout performance. She poured in a then-career high 17 points and 7 assists in an 84-77 Storm win. Seattle used an 8-0 run late in the fourth to build a lead it would see until the final buzzer. After a 12-point performance in game 2, Natasha Howard came to play in game three. She dropped a season-high 33 points, including a perfect 7-7 from the charity stripe, to lead Seattle to a 90-79 win.

Despite 30 points from Oddssey Sims, Minnesota couldn’t come up with a win in the series finale as Seattle prevailed 82-74. Six players for Seattle scored double digits, proving to be too much for the Lynx to handle. Granted, the season series is not dispositive. But the Storm looked great in their last three games against Minnesota and have seemingly figured out to score against their great defense.

Homecourt advantage

After tying with Minnesota with a 18-16 record, Seattle got homecourt advantage in this game by virtue of winning the season series. Both games in Seattle ended in Storm victories against the Lynx, and Seattle was 11-6 at home during the regular season. Minnesota was 7-10 on the road. Both teams have a dedicated following and used that to their advantage during the regular season.

At home, the Storm shoot much better from three. The team shoots 2.7% better from deep and more threes at home than on the road. Seattle also takes better care of the ball at home and their role players play better in friendly confines. This could all prove crucial in what should be a tight, defensive matchup.

Natasha Howard is the best player on the court

Also in the Storm’s favor is the fact the best player on the floor will be in the home uniform. MVP-candidate Howard comes into the contest averaging 17.75 points over her last four games. Minnesota had a tough time containing Howard as she averaged 19 points in the four game season series. That includes when she torched their defense for 33 points in the third game of the season series.

Howard has driven this team’s offense all year. Seattle will need to rely on her scoring yet again to advance to the second round. They will also rely on her defense as Howard was just named the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. She will be called upon to contain the trio Naphessa Collier, Seimone Augustus, and Sylvia Fowles at different times during the game. She will also have to clean up when the Storm’s guards take chances on defense.

Reason Why Seattle could lose

Seattle’s offense may disappear

The Storm have the worst offense of any team in the playoffs by both points per game (74.8) and offensive rating (96.2). Those marks are both in the bottom four of the league. Moreover, the Storm can completely shut down from time to time. They have scored fewer than 60 points on three separate occasions, most recently putting up just 54 points last Sunday against Indiana. The three times scoring less than 60 are the most of any playoff team. If the Storm’s offense shuts down like that against Minnesota, they will be going home.

Seattle’s lack of scoring depth

What Minnesota will rely on is their depth, something that Seattle does not have. Minnesota has four players averaging double figures, while Seattle only has two. With that depth, Minnesota is averaging 4 more points per game than Seattle. The Lynx have been a very consistent team who is playing great now. They ended the season 5-1 in their final six games. Only Sami Whitcomb has consistently scored off the bench for Seattle, while Minnesota has both Lexie Brown and the legendary Seimone Augustus. In what should be a close game, bench contributions will play a huge role and Minnesota has a slight advantage there.

Prediction

The Storm want to keep this a defensive battle if they want to move on to the second round. The magic number for the Storm here is 75 points. If the Storm score more than 75, they will move on to the next round. Of the 20 games where the Storm scored greater than 75 points, they won 14. Meanwhile, they were 4-12 when not reaching 75 points. Because the season series went Seattle’s way and the game is in Seattle, my prediction is the Storm by 7, scoring more than 75 points.

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