Storm beat Mystics 79-71 for 5th straight win

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Storm beat Mystics 79-71 for 5th straight win

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After losing seven of their first eight games, the Seattle Storm decided to stop thinking too much and just let their instincts take over. Now, they're on an unbeatable roll.

Sue Bird scored 25 points and Ann Wauters added 14 as the Storm completed a home-and-home sweep of the Washington Mystics with a 79-71 win on Tuesday night for their fifth straight victory.

Seattle (6-7) never trailed and held a 30-17 advantage at the free throw line in the opener of a four-game road swing. The Storm moved into a tie with San Antonio for third place in the Western Conference.

"When you're in a comfort zone as a team, you're able to play instinctively, not think too much," said Bird, who scored 18 points in the second half. "Early in the season we were a new group, a think there was a lot of thought going on. Now, we're just out there playing."

Crystal Langhorne led the Mystics (2-9) with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The Storm led by 14 points in the first half, though their edge was only 32-26 at halftime. With a second-half lineup featuring Langhorne and four reserves, the Mystics knocked down 7 of 10 shots opening the third quarter and tied the score at 36.

Seattle only made five 3-point field goals, but three came in the subsequent stretch. After 3s from Bird and Katie Smith countered Mystics scores, Wauters' shot from beyond the arc put the Storm ahead for good at 45-42 and sparked an 11-2 run.

"You can feel when a team is making a run and in those moments, you really need to bear down and focus even more then you were," Bird said. "We're veterans. We've been in this league. We know that you have to answer."

The Storm's lead didn't dip below five points in the fourth quarter, and Bird ended any hopes of a Mystics comeback with consecutive jump shots for a 70-62 lead. The Storm made 9 of 10 free throws inside the final two minutes.

Washington, returning home following a winless road trip has lost four straight and eight of nine overall. Monique Currie scored 15 points and Natasha Lacy 11 for the Mystics.

"We didn't start off well," Mystics Coach Trudi Lacey said. "Anytime a team scores 30 points off the free throw line, that's tough."

The WNBA's two lowest scoring teams played to form early on, scoring a combined 11 points over the opening 7 minutes before Seattle found its range late in the first quarter. Ewelina Kobryn scored Seattle's final seven points in the opening quarter and the Storm pulled away with a 16-4 run bridging the first two quarters for a 26-12 lead.

"We weren't really scoring there for a while and she just kind of came in and got us some buckets," Bird said.

The Storm improved to 2-6 on the road. By the time their current trip is completed, they will have played 10 of 15 games away from KeyArena.

"Our team has gotten better over the last three weeks," Storm coach Brian Agler said. "We better get some road wins because we have so many of them over the first half of the season."

Earlier in the day, the Storm waived second-year forward Victoria Dunlap. Drafted in the first round by the Mystics last year, Dunlap was sent to Seattle in a trade in the offseason. Agler expects the team to add a veteran to the roster on Friday and said the team is "talking a lot" with veteran free agent Svetlana Abrosimova.

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VIDEO: Dee Gordon homers in Marlins' 1st at-bat since Jose Fernandez' death

VIDEO: Dee Gordon homers in Marlins' 1st at-bat since Jose Fernandez' death

As the Marlins' leadoff hitter, Dee Gordon was the first to step into the batter's box on Monday night in the team's first game since the death of superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez.

It was an emotional moment after the team embraced at the pitcher's mound in his memory. Gordon began by imitating Fernandez' stance on the first pitch from Mets starter Bartolo Colon. That was great, but what happened next could not have been scripted.

Gordon hit his first homer of the season to the upper deck in right field and broke down into tears as he rounded the bases. He was then comforted in the dugout by teammates as he stepped off the field.

See it for yourself:

That's just amazing.

[RELATED: Thoughts on the death of Marlins star Jose Fernandez]

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Nats offer first reaction to playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round

Nats offer first reaction to playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round

The Nationals do not yet know where Game 1 will take place, but they do know for certain that they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series beginning Oct. 7. They have seven games remaining on their schedule and four off-days after that before their playoffs begin. That's 11 full days to ponder their opponent, a Dodgers team that just happened to pummel them this season 5-1 in head-to-head games.

The Nats, though, see an evenly matched foe. Keep in mind that regular season records sometimes mean very little in the crapshoot that is October. The Mets, for instance, went 0-7 against the Cubs last year, only to sweep them out of the playoffs in the NLCS.

"I think we match up pretty good against them," manager Dusty Baker said of the Dodgers, a team he spent eight years with as a player.

"Anybody that’s gotten this far, there’s not much difference between the teams and talent. It just depends on who’s hot and who’s not and who gets the best pitching, who gets the most clutch, in particular two-out hits. Some of the challenges they present is they have a pile of a left-handed hitters and powerful left-handed hitters, and they hit the ball out of the ballpark. They got a good team. They got a good bullpen. We haven’t even seen [rookie pitcher Kenta] Maeda yet."

The Nats have almost two weeks to prepare for the Dodgers. But really, they have had them in mind for longer than that. Once the San Francisco Giants started slipping in the NL West race, L.A. emerged as the clear favorite to win the division.

"It will be a fun series," reliever Shawn Kelley said. "I think for a while now we've known it was going to be us and the Dodgers. Now it's just about are we going there or are they coming here first."

"First team we've gotta try to beat," center fielder Trea Turner said. "It's a matter of formulating a gameplan to beat those pitchers who have been really good all year. Especially, [Clayton] Kershaw now that he's back. Their lineup is deep. They've got a lot of veteran players and a good mix of young guys that have done it all year."

The Nationals enter Monday night 1 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers. If they are to finish with the same record, the Dodgers will get home field advantage based on their head-to-head series record.

Baker offered a measured take on what home field advantage would mean to the Nats.

“It’s not necessary because you’ve seen sometimes the home field doesn’t really matter. It depends on who’s hot during that series," he said. "But sure, anytime I can get home field advantage, we’ll take it, especially because you don’t have to go back to the Coast twice. Let them come to us. Right now we have the lead over them and so there’s no sense giving it up. Sometimes it can be taken from you, but that’s up to us."

Baker said he plans to give some players rest during the final seven games of the regular season. He does not know yet whether Max Scherzer or Tanner Roark will be asked to pitch on short rest in the playoffs. He also said the team has not decided how they will handle the four-day layoff next week. They will hold at least one workout either at home or on the road, but whether fans or media will be permitted to attend has not been determined.

It's an inexact science, trying to keep players fresh but also sharp after a playoff spot has been secured. It's even harder to navigate through those four off-days without losing momentum. The Nats remember all too well back in 2014 when they finished the regular season winners of 17 of 22, only to fall flat offensively in the playoffs against the Giants.

Baker has to figure out the best way to handle the Nats this time and he is still determining the best course of action.

"It’s a thin line between playing a whole bunch and not playing enough," he said.

[RELATED: Thoughts on the death of Marlins star Jose Fernandez]

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