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Sun face their future (hopefully): the Storm

Mohegan - The Seattle Storm roll into Mohegan Sun Arena tonight playing at a historic level.

Seattle is 25-4 and could tie the WNBA record for most wins in a season. The Storm have clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, has two MVP candidates - Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird - and a veteran cast that has learned how to win together.

They are everything the Connecticut Sun hope to be someday.

Connecticut is nearly out of playoff contention and must beat the Storm (7:30 p.m. tip) to keep its slim hopes alive. The Sun trails fourth-place Washington by three games with five to play. There's not much else the Sun can do short of winning all of their games and hoping the Mystics collapse.

"I told our players, 'We'll worry about what we can control,'" coach Mike Thibault said. "We can't control anything else but what we do, and play these five games as hard as you can play them."

This season has not been what the Sun envisioned. They brought in six players, three of them rookies (including No. 1 pick Tina Charles), and optimism was high.

Connecticut started 9-4, but is now 14-15.

"This is not a two-week or two-month plan," Thibault said. "This is a long-term plan. We can't let setbacks now deter us from where we're going as a team. If it doesn't all happen this year, it doesn't. That's the way it is. Nobody is going to be happy about it, but we're going to keep trying to get better.

"I think they know what's in front of them. They competed their butt off against Seattle last week (an 83-82 loss) and I expect we'll do the same thing (tonight)."

The Storm are four wins away from tying the league's single-season record (28), a mark set by both the 2000 Houston Comets and 2001 Los Angeles Sparks.

Seattle's success didn't happen overnight. It hasn't won a first-round playoff series since beating Connecticut for the 2004 WNBA title, and it's spent the last few years building a new core around mainstays Bird and Jackson.

Guard Tanisha Wright, the Storm's 2005 first-round pick, was erratic for two years, but has slowly matured into a go-to player. Seattle added starters Swin Cash and Camille Little via separate trades in 2008 and signed Svetlana Abrosimova and Le'Coe Willingham this off-season.

"It's something we've talked about all season, what's led us to where we are right now," Bird said. "Having the same starting group and adding the depth that we've been lacking a little bit the last couple of years."

It's helped that Jackson has been healthy this season - she missed the playoffs the last two years due to injury. Cash, who had struggled with back issues, has played like her old self.

The Storm's starting lineup has also played together long enough to develop a rapport.

"I know where Camille wants the ball," Bird said. "I know where Lauren wants the ball. I know where Swin wants the ball. I know where they're going be at any given time on the court. And that comes with time. That's not something (that comes with a) snap of the fingers."

Connecticut has tried to develop that chemistry this season.

"There's two things that happen when you make changes," Seattle coach and director of player personnel Brian Agler said. "The team from the business side really tries to promote it, so the expectations get high. The media jumps on that and the expectations get high, whereas I think a lot of times the basketball people say, 'Wait a minute, this league is good. There are a lot of good teams in this league, and you better play every night if you want to have success.'

"When you start adding a lot of new pieces together, especially if they're critical pieces, it takes time for a team - a team - to develop. They've done that here. They've got great talent, but there are a lot of new people. It's not that easy. And it's a learning process."

n.griffen@theday.com

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