By STEVE HUNTER
SEATTLE (AP) – Tina Thompson and the Seattle Storm are heating up just in time to make a run at a WNBA-record 10th straight playoff berth.
Thompson and Camille Little each scored 18 points and the Storm beat the Connecticut Sun 78-65 on Thursday night to tie Phoenix for third place in the Western Conference.
Temeka Johnson added 12 points and nine assists, and Shekinna Stricklen had 11 points for Seattle.
The Storm have won five of their last six to improve to 15-14, reducing their magic number to clinch a playoff berth to one. Seattle has gone 9-4 after opening 6-10, rallying to overcome the season-long absences of injured stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson.
“I think it was a lot of new pieces to this puzzle,” Johnson said about the recent victories. “Finding the chemistry, the right balance and the right connection. Once we got it, everything turned around.”
Thompson has ignited the turnaround. The 38-year-old came into the game averaging 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds over the previous 12 games and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds.
“We need to win games and that’s the focus of everybody on this team, including myself, so I’m just doing whatever I can for us to get wins,” Thompson said.
The play of Thompson certainly has inspired her teammates.
“The way Tina has been playing I don’t think it really matters who we’re playing right now,” Little said. “I mean, how can you guard that from half court?”
Thompson’s leadership shines through her performances.
“Feeding off of her is easy the way she has been playing the last couple of games,” Little said. “It’s amazing. You really can’t describe it. I hope she’s got a lot of gas left so she can keep doing it.”
Seattle coach Brian Agler said it’s easy to describe what Thompson has done over the past month as well as her career.
“She’s a leader and a winner,” Agler said. “If there’s one word I could say about her it’s she’s a winner. It’s all about winning, playing well and focus. She’s putting her stamp on this team.”
Tina Charles led Connecticut (7-21) with 18 points, Renee Montgomery added 15 and Tan White 12. The Sun have lost six straight and nine of 10. They won the Eastern Conference regular season title last year.
“We got into a hole and when we get into a hole we have to at least make shots,” Charles said. “We weren’t making shots so the hole just kept getting bigger and bigger.
“They did great running Tina off of screens. It’s tough when you have someone that competitive who’s able to draw fouls.”
Seattle faces a tough test to clinch a playoff berth with three straight games against Western Conference-leading Minnesota, one on the road Saturday and then two in Seattle Sept. 7 and 10. The Storm finish the regular season with two games against Tulsa.
“We’re going to do the best we can to rest up and prepare for Minnesota for these next three games,” Little said. “It’s going to be tough but we have two at home and we’re going to try to get one on the road.”
Thompson wasn’t ready to talk about the playoffs just yet.
“It doesn’t mean anything until it actually happens,” Thompson said.
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