Despite missing some key figures, things have gone relatively well to begin the Seattle Storm's follow-up of their championship season. Now, they're about to get one important piece back into the puzzle.
Just over a month after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor from his digestive tract, coach Dan Hughes makes his season debut Friday night when the Storm look to remain undefeated at home and hand the Los Angeles Sparks a third straight defeat.
The veteran WNBA coach made his cancer diagnosis public prior to the beginning of the season and underwent surgery to remove a carcinoid tumor on May 14. His recovery has gone well and Hughes is finally ready to run the team, which is a decent 5-4 under assistant Gary Kloppenburg, despite missing stars Breanna Stewart (Achilles) and Sue Bird (knee).
"(I'm) grateful to Gary Kloppenburg and the Storm coaching staff, who guided our team through a grueling stretch of the schedule with finesse," the 64-year Hughes said. "Our team has demonstrated incredible resilience, and we will continue to fight each and every game."
The Storm have played all but two games away from home and fell 81-67 at league-leading Connecticut on Sunday to complete a 2-2 road stretch. Having Hughes back on the sidelines could be a source of motivation for Seattle, which has won both of its home contests. Its home games are being played at two different area arenas while KeyArena undergoes renovation.
"It's going to be great to have Dan back," Kloppenburg said.
Natasha Howard (19.6 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game) has been a major presence for the Storm in the absence of their two superstars. She's averaged 21.3 points in the last four games after scoring 20 on Sunday, when Seattle was outscored 25-13 in the final quarter.
This will be the first 2019 meeting between the Storm and Sparks (4-4). Los Angeles fell 81-52 at home to Washington on Tuesday, even with its own superstar Candace Parker playing for the first time since suffering a preseason hamstring injury.
Parker had three points on 1-of-9 shooting and five rebounds in just under 25 minutes as Los Angeles shot just 28.8 percent, including 3 of 19 from 3-point range, and turned the ball over an astounding 26 times. Parker committed six of those turnovers.
"Candace, obviously, is not at her peak levels, and, obviously, a lot of our group, expected things to happen - because she's back - that are just not going to magically appear," coach Derek Fisher said as posted on the Sparks' official Facebook page.
"We still have to manage the details and the small things that go into the execution."
While Los Angeles aims to get back on track, it can also win three consecutive road contests for the first time this season. Guard Chelsea Gray is averaging 15.6 points during a strong start to her season, but looks to rebound after scoring eight on 4-of-12 shooting versus Washington.
Parker averaged 18 points while the Sparks dropped two of three against the Storm in 2018.