Storm, Jackson in search of signature win in Game 3

Updated: August 21, 2006, 10:30 PM ET
By Miki Turner | Special to ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- About 30 minutes after the Sparks avoided elimination with a 78-70 victory over the Storm in Sunday's Western Conference semifinal, the star attraction of the visiting team joked about whose name actually belonged on the court at Staples Center.

Lisa Leslie
AP Photo/Matt A. BrownLisa Leslie (right) and the Sparks stopped Betty Lennox and the Storm in Game 2.

"I told [teammate] Betty (Lennox) before the game, 'This is your court baby,' " Seattle center Lauren Jackson said. "I mean, it's got Lisa Leslie's autograph on it, but this is your court."

Well, while the court does have Ms. Leslie's stamp on it -- literally and figuratively -- it's going to have to become Jackson's court on Tuesday (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET) if the fourth-seeded Storm are to advance to the West finals against Sacramento. Jackson, who is Seattle's leading scorer (21.3 ppg), was held to only four field goals on Sunday.

"There has to be ways around getting more shots," Jackson said prior to the Storm's practice session at Staples on Monday. "It just seemed like wherever we got the ball, whether it was at the 3-point line or in the key, there were three people on me. So, I was like, 'What can I do?' "

The answer to that question is going to depend on how effectively Seattle can play against the Sparks' zone, how often Storm guards Lennox and Sue Bird can get the ball to Jackson and which player Sparks coach Joe Bryant will have checking her. Normally, he likes to use Jessica Moore, but he might go with Leslie on Tuesday.

Jackson -- who has been battling stress fractures and plantar fasciitis all summer -- and Leslie, two of the league's top MVP candidates, were fairly evenly matched this season:

JACKSON AND LESLIE, HEAD-TO-HEAD
MEETING LESLIE JACKSON
Seattle 90, L.A. 67
May 21, at KeyArena
24 points
8-for-14 FG
five rebounds
23 points
8-for-11 FG
six rebounds
Seattle 75, L.A. 67
June 28, at Staples Center
15 points
6-for-8 FG
four rebounds
DNP
L.A. 71, Seattle 70
July 30, at KeyArena
31 points
14-for-24 FG
five rebounds
27 points
10-for-16 FG
eight rebounds
Seattle 84, L.A. 72
Aug. 18, at KeyArena
Game 1
15 points
4-for-9 FG
seven rebounds
22 points
7-for-13 FG
nine rebounds
L.A. 78, Seattle 70
Aug. 20, at Staples Center
Game 2
17 points
4-for-12 FG
six rebounds
13 points
3-for-4 FG
five rebounds

Although Leslie and Jackson don't often match up against each other on the court, Bryant says it's obvious they enjoy going up against one aonther.

"I think there's a respect that they have for each other," Bryant said. "They've played against each other so many times that they know each other and they respect each other. It's so funny watching them play each other. Usually we don't have that matchup, but it's like neither one of them want to let the other score. It's a cat-and-mouse game, but they're great competitors."

Jackson concurred.

"There is definitely a huge competitiveness between us," she said, "but ultimately it comes down to winning and losing. I think Lisa's kind of had an advantage with USA Basketball and all those gold medals coming out of their ears. Those have been very elusive to [Australia]. She's won championships and all of these things and I'm sort of starting to get some of that, too. She's just amazing. I still look up to her."

Leslie, however, downplayed the rivalry.

"It's competitive that way but I can't say that it's just Lauren," Leslie said. "When I play against Yolanda [Griffith], I don't want her to score and she doesn't want me to score. Tina [Thompson], the same thing. It's not just one player. We know that we are the catalysts of our team and our team goes as we do and that's the main point.

"I don't really think about Lauren when I'm playing. It's so funny, people always want to match us up and it's a great compliment, but I don't think about her. I just read the defense. If she's in front of me then I'll go around, if she's on the side, then I'll go to the other side. It's not like she does anything in particular. I know that she likes to block shots with her left hand and she does a good job of getting her hand up. Sometimes when I'm not thinking, I'll turn and shoot right into her."

Still, Leslie admitted that the Sparks must find ways to contain Jackson on Tuesday if they want to spend some time up in Northern California -- where Sacramento awaits in the West finals -- before calling it a season.

"I think we're just going to have to put a body on her like we did Sunday. We made a lot of contact and we were physical," Leslie said. "We didn't give them easy passes to her. We looked at Game 1 and we were barely touching her. I told the team, 'We can touch her, we can get a hand on her, we can bump her like she's bumping us.' "

But Jackson has all the answers, too, for Seattle to avoid a repeat of Sunday's less-than-spectacular performance.

"Well, obviously we have to work on the offense," Jackson said with a slight chuckle. "That would be No. 1. I have to get more shots and be in a position to get more shots. No. 2, once we get these leads we need to keep them. We tend to let them dwindle a little bit. We just have to keep our focus and our composure when and if we get up again."

Positioning, and breaking L.A.'s zone, will be key for the Storm if they are to get Jackson the rock. Seattle coach Anne Donovan said the Storm will need "a combination of Lauren really working hard in the zone for the opening and our perimeter staying focused on where she is and how to get her the ball."

As for that zone defense that was so effective in Game 2, Bird knows she's going to see some of it again Tuesday.

"Yeah, when a team goes zone it definitely limits your opportunities to run specific sets for specific people," Bird said. "With a player like Lauren Jackson you can't go a full game with just four shot attempts. That's not going to cut it. Not with her and the way she can play and dominate games. We have got to find a way to get it into her. It makes a huge difference."

Especially when you-know-whose autograph is on the court.

"It is her court, it really is," Jackson said with a smile.

Miki Turner, a freelance TV producer and writer in Los Angeles, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at dmiki@aol.com.

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