The silver lining of the Seattle Storm's three-game road losing streak is that there have been signs of improvement in key areas.
Guard Katie Smith is slowly finding her shooting touch, reserve center Ashley Robinson turned in a career-best performance in Chicago, and guard Tanisha Wright is playing some of her best basketball of the season despite a poor performance in Chicago.
More concretely, they haven't fallen out of the top four in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Sparks struggling through a coaching change after losing Candace Parker.
That's an admittedly optimistic take on a team that is falling well short of pre-season expectations - just taking the performances of those three players alone is also evidence that they still haven't yet entirely come together as a whole but they've made steps in the right direction. But the positive spin is also reason for hope that they can stay close enough in the Western Conference standings to have a shot, however unlikely, of getting favorable playoff seeding.
Today, the Storm host the San Antonio Silver Stars (9-4) in what could be considered something of a basketball litmus test for just how far they have come as a team and perhaps how far they have to go. The Silver Stars are currently half a game out of first place behind the Phoenix Mercury and already beat the Storm in a close 69-66 contest in San Antonio exactly a week ago.
Although it's certainly tempting to highlight All-Stars Danielle Adams and Becky Hammon when looking at the Silver Stars' somewhat surprising rise to the top of the conference this season, forward Sophia Young is also one of the biggest All-Star snubs this year. Young is among the top 15 in points (15.6 per game), rebounds (7.1), and steals (1.7) and remains among the most athletic forwards in the league.
Yet the Silver Stars' strength hardly lies in their star power alone - they're easily one of the most balanced teams in the league. They have the highest scoring bench in the league, getting just under 40 points a game from them. And their overall bench production should improve, particularly as they get even more consistent contributions from second-year Stanford alum Jayne Appel as their reserve center.
The Silver Stars have depth that makes them a formidable opponent tonight even if the Storm still have an advantage at KeyArena, where they've only lost once since losing to the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2009 WNBA playoffs.
And so the game is important not because it will make or break their playoff chances, but because it would add substance to that fuzzy, optimistic silver lining that one might be able to glean from their road trip.