10:00 PM ET, May 18, 2012
Key Arena, Seattle, WA
The Seattle Storm got only 13 games from three-time MVP Lauren Jackson last season while the Los Angeles Sparks received 17 from 2008 MVP Candace Parker.The Storm will have to deal with another extended absence by Jackson to start 2012 while Parker appears healthy for perhaps the first time since that MVP campaign as these Western Conference rivals meet Friday night in Seattle in a marquee WNBA season opener.Jackson played her fewest games with the Storm last year due to hip surgery. She was already struggling, shooting 39.6 percent for her lowest mark since her rookie season in 2001.The Storm won't have the superstar forward available until after the London Olympics. That puts the onus on Sue Bird to shoulder more of the load, although the point guard doesn't agree with that notion."It's not me going into each game like I have to be different because Lauren is here or she isn't," said Bird, who averaged a career-high 14.7 points in 2011. "It just kind of happens. It's the nature of the game and how it unfolds."Seattle went 21-13 and tied for the league's best home record at 15-2 last year before being upset in the first round of the playoffs by Phoenix.Parker, chosen by 25 percent of the WNBA's general managers to be the MVP this season, has been limited to 27 games the last two years due to shoulder and knee injuries after her 2009 was shortened due to pregnancy. She missed half of last season, as Los Angeles went 15-19 and missed the playoffs for the first time in four years.That campaign resulted in coach Joe Bryant, the father of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, not being brought back. Carol Ross has taken over after serving as an assistant with Atlanta the last three years.Ross inherits an influx of talent, most notably No. 1 overall draft pick Nnemkadi Ogwumike from Stanford. Ogwumike helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four four times and averaged 22.5 points and 10.2 boards last season."You know, she's one of the most athletic players that I've ever played against or with in my entire career," said Parker about Ogwumike. "I think that her explosiveness is something that you don't see a great deal in women's basketball."The Sparks also added four-time All-Star Alana Beard and guard Marissa Coleman from Washington, with Coleman being reunited with former University of Maryland teammate and starting point guard Kristi Toliver.Seattle has added veteran center Ann Wauters, who is returning to the WNBA for the first time since playing for San Antonio three years ago. Rookie Shekinna Stricklen is also expected to contribute immediately."We have a lot of different pieces, and we're getting to know each other and what this team's identity will be," veteran guard Katie Smith said. "But we've kind of been there, done that, and you understand how hard it is to win in this league."These teams split four matchups a year ago, with the home team winning all of them. They meet in Los Angeles on Tuesday.