Can champs storm back in second half?
All-Star Game MVP Swin Cash, Seattle Storm look to regain their championship form
SAN ANTONIO -- Swin Cash won the MVP award in Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game in a losing effort for the Western Conference. She hopes she and the rest of her Seattle teammates won't come up short of their ultimate goal the rest of the summer, too.
The Storm are attempting to repeat as WNBA champions after a 2010 season in which they proved to be the league's best team pretty much wire to wire. Seattle finished with the best regular-season record in the league last season before capping off an undefeated posteason with the franchise's second WNBA title. But the Storm currently sit just one game above .500 (8-7) and in the middle of the pack in the West.
Why is winning two in a row so difficult? The answers to that were here in the AT&T Center.
For one thing, the show the players put on as the East defeated the West 118-113 was a good example of how much talent is spread across the league. For another, the sight of Seattle's Lauren Jackson -- in attendance as one of the league's top 15 players of its first 15 seasons, but currently out with a hip injury -- was a reminder of how big a role injuries can play in determining a champion.
Cash was the first WNBA All-Star MVP whose team didn't win. Her 21 points and 12 rebounds Saturday were indicative of the kind of load she'll need to keep carrying for Seattle.
"The toughest part is Lauren is such a big presence that she demands double-teams," Cash said. "You take that piece of the puzzle away, and we have to get more point production and better defense. We don't have her blocking shots behind us. Still, you have to just forget about it and do it. Something in your game may suffer, but you just have to do more and not worry about whether it's perfect."
Perfection on Saturday -- at least from the fans' point of view -- would have been seeing one of the two hometown favorites for the West hit the game-winning shot. But that didn't happen. The Silver Stars' Becky Hammon had eight points and four assists, while rookie teammate Danielle Adams scored two points.
Instead, the key points came from Indiana's Katie Douglas, who hit a 3-pointer and two free throws in the last minute. The final basket for the victorious East squad came from Cappie Pondexter, who could have earned MVP honors with her team-high 17 points and seven assists.
"The competitive adrenaline definitely kicked in," said Douglas, who scored 15 points. "Everyone was out there having fun, but the last five minutes we were emphasizing we wanted to win. Technically, we're not playing for anything, but we are playing for pride."
It is just the third time the East has triumphed in 10 All-Star Games, and it's interesting that it happened when the event was played for just the second time in a Western Conference city.
Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry had the most "creative" basket of the game: tossing the ball off the backboard and back to herself for a layup. But even before that, it was showtime, beginning with the introduction of the starters, which had a San Antonio flavor to it, as each player did her own little "dance/performance" and came out with a cowboy (cowgirl?) hat on.
Some got into it more than others. And it should be no surprise to anyone who knows the stylish Cash -- who also was the All-Star MVP in 2009 -- that she can bust a move with the best of them.
"It's hilarious -- I really felt it was harder figuring out what we were going to do coming out in the introductions than it was playing in the game," Cash said. "We were back there right up to the last minute working on it. Sue [Bird] needed a guy to come in and be her stuntman for it. But it all turned out great. We had a lot of fun."
Bird did a little routine where she pantomimed "roping" someone and yanking him down ... although what someone from Long Island, N.Y., really knows about rodeo is up for debate. But as you might expect from Bird, she pulled it off.
"Everybody else was doing their Michael Jackson, and this and that," Bird said. "I asked one of the guys who works for the Silver Stars, 'Can you be my prop?' And he said, 'Sure.' So I lassoed him."
We've had a rough start, but we like our chances going into August. We're definitely not down. If anything, we're looking at the upside.” -- Swin Cash
Bird always has a lot on her plate for the Storm, but now even more with Jackson out. Seattle is in fourth place in the Western Conference. Atop the West is Minnesota, which is seeking its first playoff berth since 2004. Four Lynx players were at the All-Star Game, with Rebekkah Brunson leading the way Saturday with a performance (20 points, nine rebounds and three steals) that earned her some MVP consideration.
Yes, there were steals in this game, as a little bit of defense was played despite it being an exhibition. Unfortunately for Penny Taylor, some defense from Indiana's Tamika Catchings -- trying to swipe a pass -- left the Phoenix forward with a swollen eye.
Taylor (11 points) and Diana Taurasi (13 points) were the two representatives the Mercury, who, at 10-5, are a half-game behind Minnesota (10-4) for first place in the West. The Mercury lost seven times to Seattle last year; five in the regular season and then two in the playoffs.
"Sometimes, you can just feel when things aren't going to go your way," Taylor said of the Storm's dominance over the Mercury in 2010. "They were playing fantastic. Sometimes the other team is just better than you are."
However, this WNBA season, no squad looks be as big a favorite to win the championship as Seattle was last year. It has an up-for-grabs feel to it.
Two teams realistically seem out of playoff contention: Tulsa (1-15) in the West and Washington (3-11 ) in the East. Meanwhile, the two fifth-place teams in their respective conferences -- Los Angeles (6-8) and Atlanta (6-9) -- have dealt with injuries and other issues but could still be dangerous.
And of the eight that currently are in position to be playoff teams, everyone has things to worry about ... but also reasons for optimism.
"We've had a rough start, but we like our chances going into August," Cash said of the Storm. "We're definitely not down. If anything, we're looking at the upside. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised in the second half of the season how much better basketball we're going to play."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.
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