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Originally published June 20, 2013 at 8:30 PM | Page modified June 21, 2013 at 8:23 PM

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Storm taking on coach’s personality

In the absence of injured Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, Seattle is relying on defense — coach Brian Agler’s specialty.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Sue Bird sat within earshot as teammate Tanisha Wright analyzed the Storm’s start this season.

“This year he (coach Brian Agler) has players that fit his system, his style, his way of playing,” Wright said after a 96-86 overtime win over Washington. “Because of that, I’m not surprised. To be honest, we gave away a couple of games, too. We could be better than .500 right now.”

Does that mean Wright fits Agler’s style better than Bird, who is out for the season? Bird is one of the greatest players in the WNBA, but Wright is a three-time first-team defensive player. And anyone who follows the Storm knows Agler’s specialty is defense.

Bird and Wright underline one of the most curious aspects to Seattle’s start. Despite losing its two biggest stars, the Storm has found surprising success with players who perfectly suit the coach.

Agler, also the team’s general manager, found himself without stars Bird and three-time league MVP Lauren Jackson this season due to injuries. He was forced to design a roster his way.

He started with Wright, a lockdown defender, then added Temeka Johnson, a defensive force at point guard. He also brought in forwards Camille Little, Noelle Quinn and Nakia Sanford and seven-time All-Star Tina Thompson.

The full roster has been together since the beginning of training camp in May.

Even without Bird and Jackson for the first time since 2002, Seattle didn’t take the projected dip to start the season. The Storm is 3-3 headed into its game at San Antonio (2-4) on Friday, far better than the 1-7 start in 2012 with a healthy Bird.

“We’ve got really good chemistry and they seem to have a good bond and they seem to play well together,” Agler said of his makeshift roster. “They’re taking a lot of pride in how we’re doing things and what we’re doing.”

Glance over the statistics this season and there’s slightly better production. Last season, with all-time scoring leader Jackson playing just nine games due to injury and the 2012 Olympics, Seattle averaged 71.2 points. This season the Storm’s average is 72.5.

The Storm used its passion for defense to win the decisive final minutes of back-to-back wins against Connecticut (19-15 in the fourth quarter) and Washington (18-8 in overtime). In Seattle’s home-opening win against Phoenix, it outscored the Mercury 25-18 in the third quarter.

“We know we have a great opportunity to go out there every night and defensively make a stand,” Wright said. “If we do that, then that will give us an opportunity to win games.”

The team is jelling so well that Agler isn’t looking to make any roster changes. When news broke that Jackson (hamstring) and Bird (knee) would undergo surgery and not play in 2013, Agler believed he’d need a fluid, flexible roster.

The veteran Sanford has blended with second-year forwards Shekinna Stricklen and Alysha Clark and rookie Tianna Hawkins to form a formidable bench. Defense and rebounding is their first priority.

“I’m hoping this is not the end,” Agler said. “We’ve improved but we’re not as good as we need to be.”

Notes

• Bird will be on Twitter with fans Friday during the Storm’s game in San Antonio. Use hashtag #BirdTweets beginning at 5 p.m.

• Agler will be inducted into his native Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame on May 17, 2014.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com.

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