By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- With Sue Bird leading the way, the Seattle Storm are on the verge of reaching the .500 mark after a dismal start.
If the Atlanta Dream are going to slow them down, they'll have to do it without their top player.
Seattle seeks its eighth victory in 10 contests Wednesday when it hosts Atlanta, which will be without leading scorer Angel McCoughtry for a third straight game.
The Storm (8-9) have played the entire season without Lauren Jackson, who's training for the Olympics with the Australian team, but they've apparently more than adjusted to her absence after their 1-7 start. Sue Bird has been a big reason why.
She scored 31 points - two shy of her career high set in 2002 - and hit 10 of 11 shots to guide Seattle to an 83-68 win over Phoenix on Sunday.
The veteran sat out Saturday's defeat at Los Angeles due to nagging pain in her surgically repaired left hip, and coach Brian Agler is using Bird sparingly in practice in order to keep her fresh for games.
The problem has not slowed her down much, however, as she's scored at least 21 points in four of her last eight games after a slow start to the season. Seattle has won all but one of those.
"Mostly, I would describe it as a nuisance," Bird said of the injury. "There was a point last week, even walking, I could feel it, which I've never really had before. Usually it would just happen when I was playing."
Agler has set the break-even mark as a goal for his club going into the Olympic hiatus.
"I said, 'If we can get to eight wins we have a chance to get right back in the thick of things,'" he told the team's official website. "So we're there, but I told them not to be satisfied with that. Let's help ourselves even more. We can get to .500 on Wednesday."
That may prove difficult, though, if Bird isn't better against Atlanta than she was last year. She totaled 12 points as the Dream won both meetings by a combined 46 points.
Atlanta may not be able to match that dominance if McCoughtry, nursing a sprained left MCL, doesn't play.
She sat out a 100-93 double-overtime win over Phoenix on Saturday and a 79-63 defeat at Los Angeles on Sunday. Sancho Lyttle did her best to make up for McCoughtry's absence, scoring a career-high 31 points Saturday and adding a team-best 17 in the next game.
Atlanta (8-9) trailed by 15 entering the fourth quarter against the Sparks and was unable to get closer than seven.
"When you work so hard to bring a lead back, you kind of get tired," Lyttle said. "I can't say for everybody - I just say for myself. I think being tired played a key in our game."
The Dream have split the first four games of a six-game trip. They'll also play their first two contests after the break on the road.
Updated July 10, 2012