Seattle Storm, playoff-bound, eye what's ahead

A key victory in the playoff race, Natasha Howard's resurgence, and Magbegor pushes through the rookie wall

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Seattle Storm v Chicago SkyPALMETTO, FL - AUGUST 29: Jordin Canada #21 of the Seattle Storm shoots the ball during the game against the Chicago Sky on August 29, 2020, at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages)

The Seattle Storm returned to the court on Saturday after a leaguewide game boycott to reinforce the players’ dedication to social justice. At 12-3, the Storm were looking to sweep the season series with the Chicago Sky and gain some distance from them in the standings. 

Along with Las Vegas, Seattle clinched a playoff berth with their win over Chicago. Everything from here on for the Storm is about jockeying for playoff position and staving off teams like the Aces. 

Saturday’s victory also gave the Storm the pivotal tiebreaker over the Sky. Chicago is three games back in the standings but would have to climb four games because Seattle owns the tiebreaker with them. With a half-dozen games remaining on the schedule, the Storm no longer have to worry about the Sky much.

Aside from the Aces, the Storm still have to take care of business against the Lynx and the Sparks. Seattle has one game remaining against each of these three teams and will have to remain focused on the lesser teams they’ll face along the way. Beating a team like Dallas should be no problem, but looking past a team like the Wings could jeopardize their hold on the first-overall seed. 

September is setting up for a good playoff race. Here are the Storm’s key games remaining: 

  • September 4 at Los Angeles

  • September 6 at Minnesota

  • September 13 vs Las Vegas

Minnesota will play Las Vegas once more and defeated Los Angeles on Monday night. Las Vegas ends their season with three straight games against Seattle, Los Angeles, and Minnesota. The Aces may have the toughest schedule down the stretch with just two of their seven remaining games against teams with sub-.500 records. 

The Storm should be in a good position, but with the top-3 teams in the league having remaining games against each other, a lot has yet to be decided.

Howard is heating up

Natasha Howard’s brilliant performance on Saturday — 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting and 15 rebounds — is the latest in a string of strong games for her. The veteran had a slow start to the season but has played well over the last eight games. Take a look:

First eight games: 4.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.1 assists, and 1.4 steals per game on 37.8 percent shooting from the field.

Last eight games: 11.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 2.3 steals per game on 60.7 percent shooting from the field.

Fortunately for Howard and the Storm, the team has enough scoring options where Howard doesn’t need to score in double figures every night. However, having another scorer is always a good thing. Howard hitting her stride as the playoff race intensifies is just what the team needs.

“Every game that I play, it boosts my confidence as well,” said Howard on Saturday. “Also, my team has been helping me out with that as well. I don’t do that by myself, I have my teammates pushing me and the coaching staff pushing me as well.”

Howard has now scored in double figures in six consecutive games after scoring in single digits the first 10 games of the season. She’ll find other ways to impact the game even when her shot isn’t falling, but her shot starting to drop makes someone else having an off night more stomachable.

Magbegor continues to impress

Although Storm rookie Ezi Magbegor is unlikely to win Rookie of the Year, she is making a case for the All-Rookie Team. Magbegor has provided the Storm with steady contributions off the bench all season long and her role has grown as the season has gone on.

Magbegor is averaging 6.6 points, 2.4 assists, and 0.9 blocks per game in just 13.2 minutes a night. Her 54.9 percent field goal percentage is second among all rookies who have played more than four games.

What’s impressive about Magbegor is she doesn’t make many mistakes. With an above-average usage rate (20.9 percent), Magbegor has turned the ball over just 6.1 percent of the time. Essentially, Magbegor uses one-fifth of the Storm’s possessions and turns the ball of six times for every 100 possessions. Rookies are supposed to make more mistakes than that.

That’s not to say Magbegor hasn’t had her struggles. She endured a four-game stretch where she averaged 6.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting just 38.5 percent from the field.

She’s bounced back from that slump, including an 11-point and two-steal performance Saturday in which she shot 50 percent from the field.

While Magbegor may not win rookie of the year, she has been one of the most consistent and reliable rookies. The fact that she has claimed a key bench role on a contender this early in her career should also not go overlooked.

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