Monarchs edge Storm, reach postseason for sixth straight year

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Thanks to another strong effort at home, the Sacramento Monarchs can rest a lot easier on their upcoming two road games that conclude the regular season.

Nicole Powell scored 20 points to help the Monarchs clinch the final playoff berth in the Western Conference with a 77-74 victory over the Seattle Storm on Tuesday night.

Despite the Storm missing three starters, the victory didn't come easily for the Monarchs, who had to score the game's final seven points to secure their sixth straight visit to the postseason, which starts next week with a home game, where they haven't been beaten in eight games.

"Playing on someone else's home court, you never know what could happen, so this relieves the pressure for us," Powell said.

Kara Lawson added 19 points and had two big free throws in the closing seconds to help the Monarchs (18-14) secure the victory and move within a game of Los Angeles for the third seed in the Conference.

Katie Gearlds made her first five 3-point attempts and scored 17 points for Seattle. Tanisha Wright also had 17 points, Yolanda Griffith scored 16 and Camille Little added 12.

Sue Bird, who averaged 21.8 points in the previous five games, was limited to six points, six assists and committed four of Seattle's 24 turnovers.

"We didn't want her (Bird) to get the ball back once she gave it up, so we played more aggressive off the ball," said Lawson, who played with Bird in the Olympics. "She has been playing world class since the Olympics, so we wanted to limit her touches."

Trailing 74-70, Sacramento hit seven straight free throws to rally for the win. Powell's two gave the Monarchs a 75-75 lead with 21.5 seconds left.

"I was just trying to get to the basket (after the steal) and make a play," Powell said. "I got the two free throws and was able to knock them down."

After two Seattle misses, Lawson grabbed the rebound and made two free throws with 10.6 seconds remaining to make the score 77-74.

Gearlds finally missed a long 3-pointer in the final seconds and Bird had a shot blocked as the Monarchs secured the win.

"In terms of this game, you could list a lot of things that we didn't do well," Bird said. "We turned the ball over a lot and they out-rebounded us. But we were in a very good position to win this game in the fourth quarter and we didn't execute."

The Storm (21-11) fell out of a first-place tie with San Antonio, which defeated New York to take over the top spot in the West. Both Seattle and the Silver Stars have two games remaining in the regular season.

The depleted Storm played without three injured starters, Lauren Jackson (ankle), Swin Cash (back) and Sheryl Swoopes (mild concussion).

"This is crazy, it's been a roller coaster from beginning to where we are right now," said Griffith, who had seven rebounds, five assists and five steals against her former teammates. "It really hurts when you have three starters out. But we still had this game, we had an opportunity and it didn't happen."

Led by the outside shooting of Gearlds and Wright, plus the inside play of Griffith, the Storm battled back from a 10-point halftime deficit to pull within 60-59 heading into the fourth quarter.

Sacramento scored 11 straight points late in the second quarter to build a 44-34 halftime lead. Despite foul problems, Lawson scored 11 points for the Monarchs. Wright had 11 points for Seattle.