The post-season starts for the Lynx tonight in Seattle, where they face the defending champion Storm in a single elimination first round game. Of course it’s a bit unfair to refer to the Storm as the defending champs, given they are without their MVP caliber forward Breanna Stewart and their Hall of Fame point guard Sue Bird, and have been all season.
This year, they held off the Lynx to grab the sixth seed in the eight team playoff bracket, while the Lynx are seventh. As a reminder, the bottom four seeds play each other in a single elimination first round, with the eighth seeded Mercury at fifth seeded Sky preceding the Lynx-Storm game tonight.
The winners of tonight’s games go on to play the third and fourth seeds in a second single elimination round. It isn’t until the league semi-finals that the top two seeds (Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun) get involved.
At any rate, it’s been a different season for the Storm without their stars, but a new star has emerged in ex-Lynx player Natasha Howard. She’s been brilliant all season, averaging 18 and 8 and anchoring a strong defense for the Storm. Mercedes Russell usually starts next to her up front, with Jordin Canada at point guard and Alysha Clark, their best shooter, and Jewell Lloyd at the wing spots.
There are some similarities between these two squads, as both are stronger defensively than offensively (the Lynx finished second in the league in defensive rating, the Storm fifth,) anchored by a defensive presense in the middle. Sylvia Fowles, who recently signed a two year contract extension with the Lynx, continues to dominate down low, and the battle with Howard should be excellent.
Like most teams, the Storm take more threes than the Lynx, but other than Clark are not a great perimeter shooting team.
The Lynx won five in a row toward the end of the season, and if they could have made it six in the season finale in Los Angeles would be hosting this game. It’s been quite a year for the Lynx, who completely revamped their roster, and have relied on a rookie, Nepheesa Collier, as much as anyone this season.
They have stayed afloat thanks to their second ranked defense, because the offense has struggled. Although they somehow finished in the middle of the pack offensively, they committed the most turnovers in the league, and were T-11th in three pointers made. It was a real struggle at that end when they were unable to get out and run.
The Storm won two of the three regular season meetings, with Howard playing a big role in both wins. The Lynx will have to control her as well as keep Clark quiet from three in order to win tonight.