Playoff rivals Storm, Mercury know each other well

THURSDAY, SEPT. 15, 2011

SEATTLE – Sue Bird isn’t afraid of leaking any strategic secrets that the Seattle Storm might employ when they open defense of their WNBA title tonight against the Phoenix Mercury.

As the All-Star point guard sees it, there are simply no secrets left to leak in a rivalry that has become as fierce as any in the league.

“We know them very well, they know us very well, even down to the play calls,” Bird said. “At this point, it’s just about who can execute and who can impose their will on the other team.”

Heading into the opener of the best-of-3 Western Conference semifinal series in Seattle, it’s the Storm who have done most of the imposing lately.

Seattle has won 10 of the past 11 against the Mercury. That includes a two-game sweep of last year’s conference finals and an overall run of nine straight victories that ended Aug. 16 when the Mercury prevailed 81-79 in Phoenix.

“Most of these games come down to the last two or three minutes,” Phoenix star and WNBA leading scorer Diana Taurasi said after the Mercury lost Friday in Seattle, losing homecourt advantage for the first round. “We have to find a way to get stops and good offensive possessions.”

Phoenix, with the league’s best offense (89 points per game), and Seattle, with the stingiest defensive average (69.9 points), are both aiming for a third title.

The defending champion Storm also won in 2004, while Phoenix took it all in 2007 and 2009.

Seattle (21-13) is surging into the playoffs, winning eight of its last nine, all since three-time MVP Lauren Jackson returned on Aug. 20 after missing 20 games for hip surgery.

Jackson has averaged 14 points since then. Before her surgery, she averaged 9.1.

“The last eight games have helped me get involved with the team on offense and defense and everything,” Jackson said. “It was just more of a mental thing, just getting through that. Staying out for so long, obviously, I was burning to get back into it.”

Phoenix (19-15) is trying to shake off a late-season slump, having dropped two straight and three of its last five.

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