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Storm fall in battle between top two teams in power rankings

The Seattle Storm have championship aspirations. But a potential ascension to favorite status was denied on Wednesday.

Chicago Sky v Seattle Storm
Breanna Stewart (right) couldn’t slow Candace Parker’s Chicago Sky on Wednesday.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Seven of the Seattle Storm’s final 11 games are against the big five teams in the WNBA — the five that are considered championship contenders before a big drop-off.

The first of those final 11 games took place on Wednesday and the Storm fell 78-74 to the first-place Chicago Sky.

The Sky (20-6) have won five in a row to go from a half a game ahead in first place to two games ahead. They famously went just 16-16 in the regular season last year before winning the championship and have been determined to make this regular season different. With the addition of Emma Meesseman, they have been able to do so. As we pointed out in our midseason power rankings, the Sky have everything going for them right now.

The No. 2 team in our power rankings couldn’t alter this narrative on Wednesday and although they only lost by four, Courtney Vandersloot’s absence calls into question the Storm’s inability to pull out a win.

The Storm (17-9, tied for third place) opened the Tina Charles era with a big-time win over the Las Vegas Aces, so they are now 1-1 in key regular-season matchups with Charles. Falling to 1-1 in big games is disappointing, especially with Vandersloot out, but the Storm know they have six more potential semifinals or Finals previews, including another one against the Sky on Aug. 9, before it really starts to count in the playoffs.

“Obviously not playing with Sloot is a different beast,” said Storm head coach Noelle Quinn. “But knowing that Chicago’s the standard, they won the championship last year, they’re in first place right now for a reason, and to see how we stand up and compete and match up with them, it is good to see it right now because there are a lot of implications for postseason. But still got a ways to improve.”

Seattle started the game off on a 7-0 run and led by as much as 10 in the first quarter before the Sky tied it entering the second. The entire contest was played within 10 points, with Chicago holding its one 10-point lead with 6:28 to play and a nine-point lead with 5:30 to go. A 12-5 Storm run capped by a Breanna Stewart layup then cut it to two with 2:11 remaining. But the Sky answered with a 3-0 run over the next 1:58, forcing Seattle to foul.

“We had a couple plays that didn’t go in our favor down the stretch, which is always tough,” said Stewart, who finished with a game-high 24 points. She’s scored 19-plus in each of her last four to maintain her spot atop the league’s scoring list. “But to kind of weather their storm, be up at 7-0, them come back, us come back, it felt like momentum was on our side.”

“We definitely had opportunities to win the game,” Charles said. “That's something that Sue (Bird) was harping on after the game and just letting us know. Same thing with Noey.”

“Chicago’s tough in all facets of the game,” Quinn said. “I thought we started off the game well, I thought they stayed poised and made a run. ... All in all, I thought we defended well enough to win. A team that’s high-powered like Chicago, holding them to 78 is very good. So good things to take out of this game.”

Seattle faces Connecticut, Washington and Washington on July 28, 30 and 31, respectively, and then faces the Aces twice and the Sky once over its final four contests.