It would probably be reasonable to imagine that a team would practice differently before heading to Phoenix to play a well-rested, up-tempo Mercury team that is coming off a week-long rest.
"It's gonna be a tough game," said Storm point guard Sue Bird after practice yesterday morning. "They haven't played in a week so I'm sure they've been working on their stuff. And for us any time you play against a Western Conference opponent, it's an important game. So it's on the road, it'll be our first test wearing our green uniforms, so we'll see how it goes."
Nevertheless, while acknowledging the factors that make this a uniquely tough game, Bird also suggested that they didn't do anything beyond the norm during practice -- such as working on their personnel and running through their plays.
"For us obviously they want us to play their style and we can run -- we have the ability to that but you don't want to overdo it," said Bird. "You don't want to do it to the point that as a team we're not getting what we need to get done. So for the most part today though we know that already. So for the most part we worked on their personnel, their plays, and things like that. There's a few factors that go into it that help us control the game a little better and hopefully we'll get those done."
When you're playing for head coach Brian Agler, one of those few factors is crisp execution on every play...even in a practice setting.
As the Storm continue to work on coming together a team with an almost entirely revamped bench, there are times in practice when things won't be entirely sharp.
One such moment came yesterday came after transitioning from an intense defensive drill to working on offensive sets against the male practice squad. Things weren't quite as sharp as coach Agler would have liked and he stopped practice to gently ask the team what grade they'd give their offensive execution.
"Would you even give it a 'C'?" asked Agler who has a Master's in Education. "You're not thinking about execution -- you're thinking about going through the motions."
After that moment, things seemed to kick into gear -- forward Lauren Jackson hit a three, a mid-range jumper, and a turnaround jumper from the block before Agler called for substitutions, perhaps a loose metaphor for the way Storm games have played out so far this season.
"If they play like that tomorrow," said Agler pausing briefly when asked about his question-statement after practice. "It won't be good. So we have to tighten things up."
Conversely, when Bird was asked about that moment she smirked and waved it off saying it was a motivation tool.
"Yeah that's him trying to motivate us," she said. "In practice you're trying to get better, you're trying to work on things, it's never going to be perfect especially going against these guys (pointing to male practice players). That's the beauty of going against them -- they're bigger, stronger, faster so you have to figure out a way to make it work. So hopefully we can take what we learned and improve on it."
That's what you have to appreciate about this team -- they are extremely talented, they've found ways to win games, and they're improving.
- As he said earlier this week, Agler mixed reserves and starters as they practiced against the male practice squad. During the portion we saw, Jackson played briefly with the reserves switching with Abby Bishop.
- Yesterday was my first extended look at forward Jana Vesela in practice and she's definitely looking more comfortable, playing both out on the wing and cutting to the block. Agler has said she's one of the reserves that he would like to get into games soon, but Vesela is still acclimating herself to the system. For Vesela, that process is two-fold: both watching the games to familiarize herself with WNBA players that she hasn't seen in Europe and just continuing to build confidence in practice.
"Every day I'm getting better and improving even in practice," said Vesela. "I feel more comfortable because now I know plays and I know how we play so it's much easier for me now. So I think I'm getting better practicing and everything is moving along."
- This would certainly not be special to anyone who's watched a lot of these practices, but I found it interesting to watch reserve point guard Alison Lacey while Bird was running the offense -- while everyone else sits on the baseline on green or yellow medicine balls, Bird and Lacey are positioned at mid-court and sub in from there. So when she wasn't in the game, Lacey was squatting and watching the play from just behind Bird from the "point guard's point of view".
It's hard to imagine a better vantage point in the world to learn that position.