It may be more surprising to see the Storm in playoff position than it is to see the Mystics there.
Seattle has lost two of the 15 greatest players in WNBA history for the season in Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. And at age 32, Bird and Jackson are still young enough to be among the league's best. In her last full season at age 29, Jackson was MVP of the league for the third time and Bird at age 31 last year was good for 12 points and 5 assists per game, which is basically her career average.
But with both of them out Seattle has had to turn to a starting lineup of Temeka Johnson, Camile Little, Tanisha Wright, Noelle Quinn and Tina Thompson, who is also one of the 15 greatest WNBA players ever, but at age 38 wasn't expected to be as dominant as she was when she was averaging 18, 19 or 20 points per game earlier in her career.
But Thompson has been one of the best scorers on the Storm this year and has amazed WNBA fans by still being a major contributor for a team in her 17th season in the league. She is the only player to have played in every single WNBA season, a distinction she has decided to part ways with after this season.
Tina has announced that she will retire after 2013 and spoke about her final regular season trips to Indiana, Chicago and Washington, D.C. on a conference call last Thursday.
"I'm just simply tired," Thompson said when asked why she decided to retire now. "I'm tired of the long days. My son is eight years old and now his life is a little more complicated. He has activities and things so the older he gets the more things get added to my plate. It's a lot of work. I'm just at a place where I want to do something a little less strenuous both mentally and physically and that was basically it."
Thompson began her career with the Houston Comets, where she won four straight WNBA championships in the league's first four seasons. The Comets took current Mystics center Michelle Snow at No. 10 overall in the 2002 WNBA Draft and Snow and Thompson played together for seven years in Houston. The two will face off against each other when Washington hosts Seattle on Saturday at 7 p.m.
But Thompson, whose Storm have already defeated the Mystics, 96-86, back on June 18 in Seattle, is not thinking about playing all of her old teammates on this farewell tour. She's still hungry to compete and win - the Storm after all are in fourth place in the West at 5-6 and have defeated teams with better records than the Mystics in Chicago and Phoenix.
"When I play against a team I'm thinking more about the team itself versus the players [on the team]," Thompson said. "I guess I'm still looking at basketball in those terms. I look at it like: we need to win basketball games, and we played them at home already and we were able to get that game so my intentions are that we can hopefully do the same [on the road]. Of course I'll greet and talk to Michelle and all the stuff like that as usual but I'm kind of an in the moment type of person so I'm not feeling emotional about it."
On the other end of the spectrum from Tina, the Storm have rookie Tianna Hawkins, who was the No. 6 overall pick in a draft class that will be the last one to overlap with Thompson.
At 6-2 Thompson is an inch shorter than Hawkins and takes a lot of threes while playing as more of a small forward. Hawkins, on the other hand, is a talented inside scorer who led the nation in field goal percentage as a junior at the University of Maryland. Saturday's game will have meaning for Tianna as well as Tina, because Tianna is from the Washington, D.C. area.
And while they are very different players, Thompson has been able to watch Hawkins play behind the scenes in practice and had high praise for the rookie when asked about her during last Thursday's conference call.
"I think Tianna is very talented," Thompson said. "I think she needs to just, at this point, bridge the gap. Every day at practice I see why Coach Agler drafted her and the potential that he sees in her. Right now, it's just her doing the things that she does every day in practice and transferring those things into the game. So for her, it's just getting acclimated. She has a special skill, she's one of those players that's always around the ball and near the ball and in the right place. Being able to make special things happen is not something that you teach it's just something that's her own ability. Once she finds her comfort zone and gets to that place where she's able to take what she does every day into the game and release some of that nervousness, she's going to be a really special player in the WNBA."
The Mystics and the Storm have identical 5-6 records and both are in fourth place in their respective conferences. The general consensus would probably be that the odds are against Seattle moving up to the 3-seed or the Mystics moving any higher than the 3-seed. But it is definitely clear that both teams will have something to compete for on Saturday with a .500 record on the line for both. And Thompson's storyline will headline the event, as even fans of a team she never played for can appreciate what she has done for the game.
"I've had a very long career, a very successful one," Thompson said. "I've been able to achieve some tings that I never even thought I would be able to do. I'm comfortable with where I am...Right now it's not an emotional thing at all. I'm really happy that I've been able to play this long; no one in the WNBA has been able to do it thus far.
"When I think of legacy or legend I think of a much older person. But when I leave the game I want to be remembered as a person who respected the game totally. That I gave my all and worked really hard. When I was in the game, whether it was supporting my teammates or playing myself, that I was a good teammate. I love the game of basketball, it's given me so much. My longevity, it's such a blessing. I hope people know that I've tried to give as much to basketball as it's given to me."