So much has changed with the Storm since starting the WNBA season six weeks ago with a pair of games against the Las Vegas Aces.

Seattle cruised to a 97-83 victory in the opener before getting drummed 96-80 three days later. 

The two teams – who met in last season’s WNBA Finals – wrap up their regular-season series in Las Vegas in a much-anticipated rematch between the top teams in the standings that carries playoff and Commissioner Cup implications. 

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Additionally, the 1 p.m. Sunday showdown at Michelob Ultra Arena features 11 future Olympians, a half-dozen All-Star candidates and a trio of WNBA MVP contenders. 

Both teams are looking to rebound from nail-biting losses that snapped five-game winning streaks. Seattle (12-3) fell 87-83 against Washington on Tuesday while Las Vegas (10-4) lost 90-89 in overtime on Friday at Minnesota. 

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“The implications of this game have driven our urgency,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said during a videoconference call. “Understanding that we need to continue to grow and get better in the things that affected us and impacted us in the last game.  

“Understanding it’s a little bit matchup power game with Vegas and not so much spread, ball screen game which we saw with a lot of shooters on the floor with Washington. The mindset is to focus on us and how we can best approach this game. We understand that this is a big game for us.” 

Seattle is perfect on the road at 7-0 while Las Vegas is tied for a league-best 6-1 home record. 

“The biggest thing that we can take going into Sunday is that this is going to be a battle,” forward Breanna Stewart said. “Obviously, every game is important, but a huge game as far as the series between us and Vegas. We’re happy that we’re going to be at full strength, but knowing that going into their home … it’s not going to be an easy thing. But we’re looking forward to it.” 

Earlier this week, Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd were selected to the 12-player U.S. women’s national basketball team that’s going to the Tokyo Olympics along with Vegas’ A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray. 

Storm forward Stephanie Talbot and center Ezi Magbegor will join forces with Vegas’ Liz Cambage for the Australian national team. 

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Meanwhile, Storm forward Katie Lou Samuelson will pair with Aces guard Kelsey Plum, the former Washington Huskies star, on USA’s 3×3 team, which makes its Olympic debut this summer. 

And Vegas’ Ji-Su Park was chosen to play on South Korean’s Olympic team. 

In their previous meeting, Seattle didn’t have center Mercedes Russell and backup point guard Ephiphanny Prince, who were playing overseas.

And at the time, Quinn was an assistant who later took over head-coaching duties when Dan Hughes unexpectedly retired May 29. 

Quinn highlighted the importance of the Storm matching the Aces’ physicality, rebounding and interior defense.

However, every game between Seattle and Las Vegas is a clash of wills that’s epitomized in the one-on-one battle between Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP, and Wilson, the 2020 WNBA MVP. 

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Las Vegas leads the WNBA with 91.0 points per game and Seattle is second at 87.9.  

However, the Aces are tops in the league with 40.7 points in the paint while the Storm is the best three-point shooting team at 40% and first with 13.8 points on fast breaks. 

“Their length makes it difficult on both ends of the floor offensively and defensively,” Stewart said when asked about defending Wilson. “To know that if Liz is posting up on one block and A’ja is on another elbow, they’re both huge threats and you have to guard them everywhere.” 

A win Sunday would practically clinch a spot for Seattle in the first Commissioner’s Cup championship game. The Storm sits atop the Western conference standings at 5-0 ahead of second-place Las Vegas at 3-2 with five games remaining in the in-season tournament that concludes in two weeks. 

After a five-week Olympic break, the Cup championship game will be played Aug. 12. Players on the winning team receive $30,000 while the runner-up gets $10,000. 

“Anytime a bonus is involved, it’s always talked about,” Loyd said. “If it’s a Cup game, it’s another incentive to go out there and play hard. But we approach every game the same honestly. We want to play at a high level every single game regardless if it’s a Cup game or a normal regular-season game because we want to be prepared for the playoffs and prepared for a series. We don’t try to put too much emphasis on it, but obviously it’s in the back of our minds.” 

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As the WNBA approaches the midpoint of its abbreviated 32-game season, the playoff picture is beginning to come into view. 

Only Seattle, Las Vegas, Connecticut (9-5) and Chicago (9-7) have winning records with a clear advantage of obtaining the coveted top four byes. The top two seeds automatically advance to the semifinals while the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds receive byes to the second round.

Since the WNBA moved to this format in 2016, the top two seeds are 9-1 in semifinals series.

Meanwhile, Dallas (8-8) and Minnesota (7-7) are in a logjam in the middle of the standings, slightly ahead of New York (7-8), Washington (7-8), Phoenix (6-7) and Los Angeles (6-7), which are a game below .500. 

“For us every game becomes important in where we want to be at the end of the year,” Quinn said. “I’m not saying the Cup game is nothing. I think this is a great opportunity in what the league is doing, but this game has other implications as well.  

“We understand home-court advantage. We understand playoff picture. We understand these things in the back of our minds. … We know this game has a lot of weight to it more so than that Cup race.”