Last year, Seattle ranked eighth in the 12-team WNBA by allowing 82.6 points per game.

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The Storm swept Phoenix — Sunday’s opponent in its regular-season opener — in a pair of exhibition games, but first-year coach Dan Hughes isn’t overly impressed with Seattle’s 2-0 exhibition record.

“I put hardly any stock in the preseason,” Hughes said. “I feel like the real moment is Sunday. The preseason is about developing and evolving your culture. It’s not about us winning games.

“This is really the first clear moment that I’ll be able to understand this team, to be honest.”

One of the biggest takeaways from the Storm’s preseason is the surprising resurrection of a dormant defense under Hughes, a 63-year-old defensive-minded coach who ended a one-year retirement to return to the sideline.

Last year, Seattle ranked eighth in the 12-team WNBA by allowing 82.6 points per game. The Storm didn’t allow more than 69 points in the two exhibition games, holding the Mercury to a 65.0 scoring average.

Before anyone tabs Seattle as an emerging defensive juggernaut, Storm point guard Sue Bird offered a sobering perspective.

“I know for a fact they didn’t run their entire playbook and we didn’t run ours,” said the 17-year veteran. “Did we beat them twice in preseason? Yes. But I would love to know my preseason record. To be honest, some of the best teams I’ve ever been on, we’ve gotten killed in the preseason.

“I don’t think preseason is any type of an indicator other than you get to see what players can do in a game environment. Even then, what makes it unrealistic is some teams don’t have their entire rosters. Some teams don’t play their top players. … It’s not what a real WNBA game will be like.”

As much as Hughes and Seattle players believe the preseason is meaningless, the Storm is unabashedly giddy about the performance of Jordin Canada, the rookie point guard who averaged a team-high 16 points in the exhibitions.

Canada triggered a late-game 73-69 comeback victory over Phoenix on May 8 while tying for team-high scoring honors with 15 points, including six free throws in the final 1½ minutes.

Four days later, the Storm clobbered the Mercury 84-61 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, thanks in large part to a game-high 17 points from Canada.

“She did that, you want to see that and no one can take that away from her, but on the other hand none of that actually counts towards anything,” third-year veteran forward Breanna Stewart said. “For her to have those games, that’s what the preseason is for – for the rookies to understand how the game is going to be.”

A scheduling quirk created four straight games between Seattle and Phoenix – two in the preseason and two to start the regular season – which is less than ideal for everyone involved.

So the former Western Division rivals are familiar with each other before their 69th meeting, 6 p.m. Sunday at KeyArena. The Storm was 1-3 last year against the Mercury, including a 79-69 defeat in a first-round playoff game.

“We know what they do,” fourth-year guard Jewell Loyd said. “But we have a new coach and a whole new playbook. We’re still learning our offense, so for someone scouting us, they really don’t know what we’re about.

“We’re still trying to figure out exactly who we are as a team and what we do best. We’re a new team with a whole new mindset. We’re definitely defensive-oriented. Way more than we have been in the past. Way more aggressive.”

When Seattle won the second of its two WNBA titles in 2010, the Storm ranked second in the league in points allowed at 73.9.

“Teams can have a bent and teams take on personalities,” Bird said. “No doubt last year we were more of an offensive team, and this year we’ve put a premium, I’d say, on rebounding as well as defense.”

Defense wins championships

The past eight WNBA champions finished the regular season ranked third or higher in points allowed. Here’s a look, along with where the Storm ranked.

Year WNBA champion Pts allowed (rank) Storm (rank)
2017 Minnesota 74.2 (1st) 82.6 (8th)
2016 Los Angeles 75.9 (1st) 80.2 (3rd)
2015 Minnesota 71.7 (3rd) 76.1 (7th)
2014 Phoenix 74.1 (2nd) 75.3 (5th)
2013 Minnesota 73.5 (3rd) 73.3 (2nd)
2012 Indiana 72.3 (2nd) 71.7 (1st)
2011 Minnesota 73.6 (2nd) 69.8 (1st)
2010 Seattle 73.9 (2nd)