The Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd dribbles around the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner during the season opener on Saturday, May 25, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd dribbles around the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner during the season opener on Saturday, May 25, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

POLL: How will the Seattle Storm fare this season?

The reigning WNBA champions are using Everett as one of their home bases this season.

So it appears that Everett is a Seattle Storm town.

The reigning WNBA champions made their official Everett debut on Saturday when they held their championship ring ceremony and played their 2019 season opener at Angel of the Winds Arena. A raucous sold-out crowd of 8,500 was in attendance to show its appreciation and watch the Storm open the season with a 77-68 victory over the Phoenix Mercury.

Any while the ceremony and atmosphere were something special, the victory itself was equally remarkable.

While Seattle is the defending champ, the team that took the floor Saturday was a shell of the team that lifted the championship trophy in September. Star forward and league MVP Breanna Stewart suffered a ruptured Achilles that wiped her season out before it even began. Legendary point guard Sue Bird is out indefinitely as she readies for arthroscopic knee surgery. The Storm were also without starting forward Alysha Clark, who was rested because she just returned from France where she won a French league championship with Lyon.

Yes, Phoenix was without a star of is own as Diana Taurasi was out with a back injury. Nevertheless, I suspect it was a victory that most WNBA followers at least raised an eyebrow about.

The prospect of playing the season without Stewart and Bird is a daunting one for the Storm. If Bird ends up sitting out the entire season it would deprive the team its two best players. And in chatting with Percy Allen, the Seattle Times’ Storm beat reporter, he mentioned that with just 12 teams in the league there isn’t much of a talent gap between first and last.

So if Seattle wants to mount any kind of a title defense — or even be one of the league’s eight playoff teams — it’s going to need several players to step up. Shooting guard Jewell Loyd, the Storm’s only remaining all-star, has to elevate to superstar status. Warrior-like power forward Natasha Howard, the league’s Most Improved Player in 2018, needs to play at an all-star level. Second-year point guard Jordin Canada has to prove she can capably fill Bird’s shoes. And Crystal Langhorne has to turn back the clock to the days when she was one of the league’s best frontcourt players.

Can the Storm do it? It’s going to be tough, but Saturday’s performance suggested there will be no lack of trying as Seattle’s effort levels were off the charts. And the trio of Howard (21 points, 16 rebounds, five steals, three blocks), Loyd (17 points, big down the stretch) and Canada (16 points, six assists) played fantastic against the Mercury.

So now that Everett is one of the Storm’s homes — Seattle has four more games at Angel of the Winds this season, beginning with next Tuesday’s encounter with Minnesota, as its new arena undergoes construction — what do you think they’re going to do this season? Vote here:

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