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Business as usual: Fever vs. Storm features the "same cast of characters"

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If you were a journalist whose goal was solely to uncover juicy stories in the form of conflict or controversy, the Storm are probably not the team for you to cover.

If you were a hype man looking to promote a big personality who loves being the center of attention and basks in the spotlight, the Storm would undoubtedly bore you to tears.

That much we could have learned after their pre-, post-, and during-game response to the then-undefeated Atlanta Dream visiting Seattle for a highly touted nationally televised early season Clash of the Titans - suggest that a single game or even their franchise-best 9-1 start is a big deal and they respond to you as though you have a third eye.

"Whatever our record might say – even if we have  a losing record – it just doesn’t matter," said point guard Sue Bird the day before leaving for their road trip. "The goal is to get better everyday and not think about it."

No matter who they're facing, the response when asked prior to the games doesn't change much -- every player and coach Brian Agler will provide you a quote that essentially communicates the following:

"It's tough -- all the teams in this league are good," said Agler on Monday, the day before the team left for Indianapolis.

Or as Bird put it when asked about a seemingly brutal 3 games in four nights, starting with a back-to-back road trip against the Fever tonight and the New York Liberty tomorrow before returning home for a game against the San Antonio Silver Stars, "It's pretty much business as usually when it comes to this situation."

Sure you could dismiss it all as strong public relations training from the Storm staff, but talk is cheap -- what's more impressive is that there is a visible link between their words and actions. So, the most interesting thing to take note of about the Storm is just how focused they are -- this is not an act they're putting on. Even though they returned their entire starting lineup, there's heightened sense of focus compared to last season that is palpable whether in the locker room and at practice.

"It's very easy not to [lose focus] when your aspirations are to win a Western Conference championship and to hopefully do well in the playoffs, get in the playoffs and do well," said Agler. "So we try to keep our focus very narrow and just go day-by-day, game-by-game and just try to get better. That's our focus right now. Get our defense better, improve our offensive execution, and our team will get better."

Boring? Perhaps. But that's what made Agler's Stanky Leg performance so entertaining -- it seemed so out of character for a coach whose almost stoic focus has shaped the emergent personality of this team.

"Everyone always thinks he comes with this stern look on his face and not really having a good time, but he's funny at times too," said forward Swin Cash on Monday.

So if you're looking for the Storm to get hyped up about something, your best bet is to head to YouTube and replay the Stanky Leg video a few times -- because if there's any additional excitement about tonight's game due to playing the reigning Eastern Conference champion or a similarly veteran team focused on a championship, you wouldn't know it from talking about the team, meaning any hype about the game beyond would feel artificial and manufactured. So the focus becomes almost entirely introspective rather than getting overly concerned with how an opponent might break that focus.

"I think it's more of a mental preparation than it is physical," said Cash. "I think we put the time in on the court doing the things we need to do but mentally we need to be prepared for whatever happens in a hostile atmosphere because Indiana has great fans."

Nevertheless, sometimes there does need to be a motivation to stay focused and it's not uncommon to hear coaches across sports try to convince us that their teams are the humble underdogs just happy to get any wins. When that fails, the motivator becomes perfection, which shouldn't be surprising from a team with three former Geno Auriemma players.

"Their team last year got to the championship, was this close to winning it," said Bird when asked about the Fever. "They've got great talent, they play well together. We like to pride ourselves on defense - it's something we talk about it constantly - and they are the one team that's ahead of us in a couple of the different defensive categories. So they also do that."

While both teams are pretty much returning the same core, Indiana has added perimeter threats in the form of Jene Morris and Shavonte Zellous as well as Shay Murphy, who started off the season getting it done from everywhere on the court. Yet generally, Agler still believes this team is much the same as last year.

"They're a little bit deeper - they have a few more perimeter players on their roster, which gives them different looks offensively," said Agler. "But it's basically to me the same cast of characters and it's a very good team. They're very, very good defensively. And they've got Tamika Catchings who's one of the best players in the world. So they're a very, very solid team."

It might be fair to say that the Storm are neither anxious nor excited about this matchup any more than any other game because they aren't so easily moved by the minor ebbs and flows of the season. Not only does the 9-1 record give them a cushion that certainly builds confidence and a strong internal identity, but they also have a veteran focus on the big picture.