CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This isn't the way Seattle wanted to start its East Coast swing.
The Storm ran into the WNBA's hottest team Thursday, losing 86-72 to the Charlotte Sting at Bobcats Arena.
With former Storm player Sheri Sam torching her former team for a game-high 23 points, Charlotte (7-16) extended its league-leading win streak to four games. Seattle, which dropped to 11-12, lost its third straight with four road games yet to play.
"Sheri had the game of her life," Storm forward Lauren Jackson said. "She played like she had something to prove — that she should still be playing with us. She was pumped."
The Storm trailed most of the way, but stayed close with balanced scoring and rebounding. Four Storm players broke double figures, led by All-Star guard Sue Bird's 19 points, but Seattle couldn't stem Charlotte's offense long enough to build any momentum.
"Charlotte did a nice job. They spread the floor, they got penetration, they kicked it out to their shooters," Storm coach Anne Donovan said. "Allison Feaster stepped up with her limited opportunities, and we know about [Kelly] Mazzante."
Mazzante scored nine points.
Seattle suffered a physical blow in the first quarter when center Janell Burse left with a left shoulder injury three minutes into the game. With Burse out of the lineup, Charlotte took advantage by working the ball inside, then kicking it out for three-pointers.
Although Seattle outrebounded Charlotte 43-33, the Storm was limited without a key inside threat.
"Losing J.B. definitely is a difficult thing for all of us," Donovan said. "We had to recover from that. I thought Barbara [Turner] and Betty [Lennox] did a good job helping us on the backboard picking up where J.B. left off. But our frontcourt rotation, we're very limited."
Burse is "a huge constant for us when she performs the way she does, and losing her is tough," said Jackson, who was limited to 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting. "We need her on the backboard. I need her in the post with me. She takes heat off myself."
Despite Burse being injured and Jackson limited by an ankle injury, Seattle stayed in contention. The Storm trailed by 15 in the second half, but pulled to 64-59 on a pair of Jackson free throws early in the fourth. A pair of Mazzante three-pointers on consecutive Charlotte possessions pushed the deficit to 11 and effectively ended any hope of a Seattle rally.
"Those threes by Mazzante really broke our back," Donovan said. "We did a nice job cutting the lead, expending a lot of energy, but we had some poor execution offensively, then gave up two threes."
Charlotte, playing its second game in as many days, nailed 9 of 27 behind the arc, while Seattle went 4 of 11. Sam set the tone by driving the lane early, then stepping back to the perimeter along with reserve guard Feaster, who hit 3 of 4 three-point shots for nine first-half points.
Charlotte's reserves, who have logged more minutes since the Sting opened the season 3-16, outscored Seattle's 32-15.
"[We] came out and played extremely hard," Sting coach Muggsy Bogues said. "They focused in on Seattle's personnel.
"We battled [Wednesday] night and got in late, so they didn't get much rest, so I was really pleased the way they came out with intensity."