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Inconsistency on defense proving costly for Sky

Elena Delle Donne scored 38 points but it wasn't enough to keep the Sky from losing their sixth game their last eight.

Pokey Chatman made it clear from the start of the season that if the Sky were going to remain in title contention, an improved defense would be the reason why.

At the midpoint of the season, the Sky have their work cut out just to make the playoffs.

After an 87-82 loss to the defending-champion Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday night, the Sky (7-10) have lost six of their last eight games, and they haven’t made strides on defense.

At least not on a consistent basis.

The Sky led the league in scoring last season (82.9 points per game) but finished next-to-last in points allowed (78.8). This year, they’re fifth in scoring (84.3) and eighth in points allowed (84.3).

Reigning WNBA most valuable player Elena Delle Donne scored a season-high 38 points against the Lynx, but the Sky were outscored 26-14 in the fourth quarter. The Sky had limited the Lynx to nine points in the third quarter.

“At the end of the day, you have to get stops on a consistent basis,” Chatman said Wednesday.

Even with the team’s struggles, Chatman hasn’t seen frustration creep in. In a league in which the dividing line between contenders and also-rans is paper thin, Chatman said the Sky can’t afford to wallow in losses like the one Tuesday. They host the Eastern Conference-leading New York Liberty (12-6) on Friday.

The Sky are awaiting news on the ankle injury that forced guard Courtney Vandersloot to leave the game against the Lynx. Chatman doesn’t expect it to be as serious as the injury that cost Vandersloot four games earlier this season.

Chatman said the climb back into contention must start soon, leaving no time to dwell on the first half of the season.

“It’s anger, they’re disappointed, but you know you’re a few games away from being right back in the thick of things,” she said. “So that keeps your focus forward.

“They’ve shown me what they’re capable of. That’s what gives me confidence. It’s easier said than done, but it’s not like we’re wishing on a star.”

De Leeuw debut

Midfielder Michael de Leeuw will see his first action with the Fire on Friday, when the team attempts to end its MLS-record 32-game road losing streak against Toronto FC.

De Leeuw signed last month but wasn’t eligible to play until after the transfer window closed this week. De Leeuw has been training with the team, and now he’ll be in a lineup that is finally back at full strength.

Coach Veljko Paunovic said that Matt Polster, Collin Fernandez, Arturo Alvarez and Patrick Doody will be ready to play against Toronto.

The next step will be determining how de Leeuw, a proven goal scorer for the last four years with FC Groningen, will factor into the Fire’s plans.

“We are working on that,” Paunovic said. “It’s good for us to have options, and for sure we will use all of our resources offensively in order to improve our performance in attack.”

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_ .