The Seattle Storm conclude the regular season Friday night with an opportunity to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The defending NBA champions (20-11) host the Phoenix Mercury (19-11), who are just a half-game behind them for the fourth seed and the final first-round bye. The Mercury conclude the regular season Sunday when they host the Las Vegas Aces.
The bye could be very valuable to Seattle because it would give star forward Breanna Stewart more time to recover from a foot injury that will keep her out of Friday’s game. She also missed an 81-53 road loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday.
“We have a great group of women, and they understand where we are,” Seattle coach Noelle Quinn said. “They understand what it’s going to take to continue to have some success, especially in the postseason.”
The Storm clearly missed Stewart’s averages of 20.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
“We can talk X’s and O’s and we can talk 20 and 10,” Quinn said, “but when you have Stewie on the floor, there’s just a level of confidence that our team plays with and other teams respect that.”
The Mercury also are eager to get a star player back from injury as Diana Taurasi has missed the last two games because of an ankle injury. Her status for Friday is uncertain, though she is expected back for the playoffs.
Phoenix had won 10 straight until a 76-67 home loss to the Connecticut Sun on Saturday.
“Having Diana out there will open it up for everybody else,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “We miss her calmness under pressure and passing ability.”
Brittney Griner returned from a one-game absence to have a game-high 25 points and 12 rebounds against the Sun.
“We’ve been feeling it, 10 in a row,” Griner said. “That broke and that hurts, but we know that we belong here and we know we’re going to go deep and make that run to the championship.”
–Field Level Media