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Steve Kelley: At the Olympics

Steve Kelley, a Seattle Times sports columnist for 25 years, is covering his eighth Olympics. He'll share news and tidbits as the Beijing Games unfold.

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August 21, 2008 9:09 PM

Life Without Lauren

Posted by Steve Kelley

Lauren Jackson was already gone from the Seattle Storm. She missed the final five games before the Olympic break, choosing to train for the Australian Olympic team.

But that loss was temporary. That was a leak that could be fixed.

In Jackson's absence, the Storm went 3-2 and four of those five games were on the road. That small success is the hope the players will cling to now that the news is official and Jackson is gone for the final eight games of the regular season and beyond.

She will have arthroscopic ankle surgery next week in Sydney and will be out a minimum of a month. For the Storm, who came into the Olympic break only a half game behind San Antonio in the WNBA West, the news is devastating.

It means everyone on this MVP-laded roster is going to have to play like an MVP if it has any hopes of getting to the league finals, when Jackson thinks she'll be ready to play again.

"We know we can do it," point guard Sue Bird said. "For me, I've been asked to do a lot even with Lauren on the basketball court. To be more aggressive, but I'm definitely going to have to turn that up a notch and try to bring everybody together.

"It's not going to take one person to fill her shoes. One person can't do it. That's impossible. She's Lauren Jackson. It's going to take a collective effort. But we have the pieces. Obviously I'm sure a lot of people are disappointed, because she's that good of a player. But we can still make the playoffs and we can still make some noise in the playoffs."

But you can't replace Lauren Jackson. You can't make up her numbers. You can't re-create her intensity. On a very good team that includes Bird, Swin Cash, Yolanda Griffith and Sheryl Swoopes, she is the hands-down MVP.

"She's one of the best players the game has seen," said MIke Thibault, assistant coach on the U.S. women's Olympic team and the head coach of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun. "When I think about matchups that are hard to defend in our league, we spend a lot of time, a lot of time, worrying about how to play against her. She just changes the game."

The Sun will play the Storm in Connecticut in Seattle's second game back from the break.

"You have a player who's as big as she is, but is mobile. Can shoot threes. Can postup, pass, rebound and can block shots.You're talking about an elite, elite player," Thibault said. "You take her out of the Storm lineup, well, I know they'll be optimistic. They have a good team. They have people who know how to win, but she's great. She just is. If it were to have happened earlier in the year, maybe you could make some adjustments, but at this stage of the season, you're losing arguably one of the three best players in the league."

Jackson will take one last injection to fight off her pain, then play one final game, the gold medal game, for Australia Saturday against the United States, before she leaves for home and for surgery.

"You can tell when she plays how much she loves it," Thibault said. "I feel bad for players who have never had the chance to play fully healthy. But I think it isn't just the Storm that's going to miss her. Our league will miss her."

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August 2008