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With their next seven games at home and their three-time MVP set to return soon, the Seattle Storm aren't in such a bad position in the Western Conference.

The same cannot be said of the injury-plagued Phoenix Mercury.

Back from the WNBA's Olympic break, Seattle could reach .500 on Thursday night when the Mercury try to avoid a franchise high-tying seventh consecutive loss.

The Storm (9-10) and Mercury (4-15) met before the break July 13, and Seattle won 83-64 on the road to take a five-game lead over Phoenix for the final playoff spot in the West.

Seattle has won eight of 11 and has no road games until Sept. 8 against league-worst Tulsa. That could be particularly beneficial to point guard Sue Bird, who is back from London after winning her third gold medal. She had 11 points and three assists as the U.S. capped off the tournament with an 86-50 victory over France on Saturday.

"Personally, I'm very glad to be home - really," Bird told the Storm's official website. "If we had to travel, that would be tough. It's important. We obviously do well at home and it's a place where we're comfortable, so to get the second half of the season started that way is going to be great.

"We kind of paid our dues in a way having to play on the road so much early on. Hopefully now we can benefit from being at home."

The Storm's chances of making a move up the standings - they trail first-place Minnesota by six games - could also improve as Lauren Jackson is scheduled to return next week. The veteran center hasn't been with Seattle all season after training with the Australian team that took bronze in London.

While the Storm appear to be regrouping following a slow start, the Mercury are falling apart. If they lose Thursday, it will be the club's first seven-game slide since July 2-25, 2003.

Phoenix, loser of eight of nine, will be without forwards Candice Dupree and Charde Houston after both underwent left knee surgeries during the break. It's also uncertain when Diana Taurasi will return from a strained hip flexor, even though she averaged a team-best 12.4 points for the U.S. in London.

Taurasi has played in two games, last appearing May 26 versus Los Angeles.

With so many injuries, the contributions from DeWanna Bonner and rookie point guard Samantha Prahalis will become that much more important. Bonner, the league's second-highest scorer with 20.7 points per game, has totaled 30 in two losses to Seattle this season.

Prahalis had seven points and three assists July 13 after scoring nine with two assists in an 83-68 loss in Seattle on July 8.

Bird finished with a season-high 31 points in that contest to help Seattle win its fifth straight regular-season home game in this series.



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