It’s been 10 months since the Storm defeated the Washington Mystics in a three-game sweep to win the 2018 WNBA title. Yet those 10 months haven’t been kind to the Storm, which lost forward Breanna Stewart and point guard Sue Bird in the preseason to severe injuries (Stewart tore her Achilles and Bird underwent knee surgery).

The list of injured players only grew as the season started, including the absence of coach Dan Hughes, who took time off to deal with his cancer diagnosis.

While Stewart remains out for the season and there still isn’t a timetable for Bird’s return, the Storm will have its healthiest, most complete roster in weeks starting Friday when it hosts the Mystics at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett at 7 p.m. 

Despite injuries, Storm relying on stifling defense to stay in WNBA playoff hunt

“We know the Mystics are going to come out because they probably still feel a type of way after last year, but we’ve got to be prepared like we are for everybody,” All-Star forward Natasha Howard said. “Everybody is coming at us still like they think that we’re not going to make the playoffs because of our record or the injuries that we do have. We’ve just got to do the things that we know that we are good at. Don’t get out of our character or out of our roles. When we do that we are a really good team.”

For the first time in over a month, since June 25, the Storm will have both Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and All-Star guard Jewell Loyd back on the court together. Loyd returns to the starting lineup after sitting out for more than a month with an ankle injury, and Mosqueda-Lewis returns after missing the last two games with a knee injury. The two have been on and off the injured list since late June.

“I think we have a chance to be as healthy as this group has been now,” Hughes said. “This week is about playing to that with a team that now has Jewell and (Kaleena) on it. It’s been a long time since we’ve had Jewell and (Kaleena) healthy and on the floor.”

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Also on the injury front, Stewart spoke last weekend about her rehab and said she hopes to return by February to play with USA Basketball in the Olympic qualifying tournament.

“It’s been 13 weeks and I’m progressing really well. It’s a long tedious process,” she told The Associated Press. “I went to go see my surgeon a week ago and he’s really happy how things are going. I couldn’t have asked for my Achilles tendon to repair better, so that’s great.”

Stewart also said she’s been communicating with former NBA MVP Kevin Durant, who suffered the same injury in the NBA Finals.

“I reached out to him. It’s nice to have someone to talk to like that. Right now we’re the only two people going through this kind of thing at this level. It’s crazy it happened to both of us and our games are so similar,” she said. “We have each other to give advice and go off, I’m eight weeks ahead of him. I tell him what’s coming and what to expect.”

While Stewart and Bird continue to progress, the Storm’s current star duo return from a successful trip to Las Vegas for the WNBA All-Star Game. Loyd and Howard started against each other last weekend in the WNBA All-Star Game. Howard helped lead Team Wilson (captained by the Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson) to a 129-126 win over Team Delle Donne (captained by the Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne) in her first All-Star appearance with 14 points and six rebounds. Loyd, who made her second All-Sar team, scored six points with three assists and three rebounds for Team Delle Donne.

“Being there was a great feeling and also having Jewell and some of our other teammates that came there to support us,” Howard said. “We represent Seattle big time there so it’s a great feeling. It’s a special moment to be there. It was a great feeling to play with other players other than your teammates. It was really fun playing with Chelsea Gray and the A’ja Wilson team. It was just great how she organized it and the way she picked the players, it was a great fit for all of us.”

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All the All-Star camaraderie will surely disappear as Delle Donne will lead Washington against Loyd and Howard’s Storm in a 2018 WNBA Finals rematch Friday.

Delle Donne has been averaging a team-high 18.1 points and 8.3 rebounds this season. The six-year WNBA veteran did sit out two of Washington’s games in July due to a concussion.

The Mystics (14-7) come into Friday’s matchup riding a four-game winning streak, while the Storm (12-9) have won four of their past five games.

“If you were to ask me through the first part of the season who was I most impressed with, I’d probably say Washington,” Hughes said. “There was a time where I thought they were playing in a way that was the best in the league and I think they have great potential. I think we can really measure ourselves against maybe the best team in the league, playing Washington.”