Sparks go into eye of Storm

The Associated Press

In basketball, it's often about finding the right combination.

It would seem veteran coach Dan Hughes has discovered just that in his first season with the Seattle Storm.

The Storm (15-5) have won five straight games to move to the top of the WNBA standings heading into Tuesday's home game against the Los Angeles Sparks (12-8).

Seattle improved to 13-1 with the starting lineup of guards Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, forwards Breanna Stewart and Alysha Clark and center Natasha Howard with Sunday's 97-91 victory over Washington.

"I think that we have just continued to gain chemistry," said Stewart, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds Sunday and leads the WNBA in scoring at 22.4 points per game. "We have gotten into the swing of things as the season has gone on. ... We are doing what we need to do."

That chemistry starts with Bird, who is second in the league in assists with 7.3 per game. Bird scored 21 points Sunday in passing former league MVP Lauren Jackson as the franchise's career scoring leader.

"In some ways it's obviously nice, for me personally I think, that a lot of these lists that I am climbing, it speaks more to my longevity as a player," said Bird, 37, in her 16th season with the Storm.

"I've been able to be consistent and stay on top of my game, year in and year out, more than anything, especially with something like points because it took me a long time to get on some of these lists. I am definitely not a better scorer than Lauren (Jackson) was."

The Sparks, who have played in the WNBA Finals each of the past two seasons, winning the title in 2016, have lost three straight games.

That includes a 83-74 home loss Saturday to Washington despite Nneka Ogwumike's 22 points and season-high 13 rebounds.

"We are at a point in our season where it goes beyond X's and O's," veteran Sparks guard Alana Beard said. "It comes down to the intangibles that we are not showcasing right now on the court. And with those intangibles, it comes from heart and passion and determination and wanting to get certain things done, and collectively it's not there."

The Sparks, who are allowing a league-best 76.8 points per game, uncharacteristically gave up 53 to the Mystics in the second half.

That doesn't bode well against the Storm, who are averaging a league-high 87.5 points.

"I think we just have to do something that feels good," Sparks forward Candace Parker said. "I think that's the key to making our offenses flow and making our defenses, you know, I think we're best when we're aggressive defensively."

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