Saturday, May 25, 2013

WNBA Scores and Standings Day 1






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Indiana Fever 74-69 San Antonio Silver Stars

Connecticut Sun Season Preview

The Connecticut Sun come into the 2013 WNBA season confident they are one of the best teams in the league -- which is entirely understandable after posting a 25-9 record in 2012 and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to Tamika Catchings and the eventual WNBA Champion Indiana Fever. 

Two key components of the 2012 Sun -- the injured Asjha Jones and the departed Head Coach Mike Thibault who resurfaced in Washington with the Mystics -- are no longer with the team, with new Head Coach Anne Donovan and first-round draft pick Kelly Faris out of UConn now in the fold. 

2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles, who led the league in double-doubles and rebounding, is back, along with savvy veteran point guard Kara Lawson and Sixth Woman of the Year Renee Montgomery. Charles, for one, is itching to get back on the court and build on the individual accolade achieved via the MVP Award in 2012 and deliver a championship trophy to the Connecticut Sun in 2013. A former teammate on the U.S. Women's Olympic Team which won an unprecedented fifth straight team gold medal at the London Games in 2012, Tamika Catchings, provided some inspiration to the soft-spoken but intense Charles. 

"Seeing up close how Tamika went about her business last year, I realized what I have to do to get to the next level," said Charles. "I have to be more of a leader, be more assertive, be more vocal. The little things that don't show up in the box score. I'm going to take things personally in 2013, so I can get the Connecticut Sun to the next level." 

Lawson, who is considered prime head coach material herself, according to the 2013 GM Survey, is familiar with Donovan, having played for her while winning an Olympic Gold Medal with Team USA in 2008, and is eager to work the Naismith Hall of Famer in getting the Sun into the Finals. 

“I kind of know what to expect from Coach Donovan, and I’m looking forward to working with her,” said Lawson. “We know each other from the Olympics, not just on the court, but off the court ,and I think those relationships can be very valuable. We understand each other, each other’s strengths and tendencies and style. Anne is honest, disciplined and straightforward. There’s not a lot guessing with Anne. She let’s you know what she wants and expects.” 

Donovan, for her part was cautiously optimistic about the acquisition of Faris, who knows a thing or two about winning, having helped UConn to national championship this year. 

"She's a really versatile kind of player," said Donovan. "She can play a bunch of positions. If you're looking for defense, she's a great defender. She's a great complimentary offensive player." 

With a motivated Charles, Lawson, Montgomery, Donovan and Faris on board, the Sun will look to build on last year and take it to the next level in 2013.

Tulsa Shock Season Preview

Last season wasn't easy for Gary Kloppenburg, a first-year WNBA coach tasked with turning the Tulsa Shock franchise around. The good news? The team tripled its win total from 2011. The bad? After a few unexpected setbacks, they still finished with a record of 9-25.
But if history is an indication, all it takes is a high-profile draft pick to make an immediate change in a franchise. And the Shock got just that by drafting Skylar Diggins, a dynamic point guard who can get her teammates fired up just as much as the fans.
"Skylar, obviously is an excellent basketball player," Kloppenburg told reporters this week. "We know that. She's going to be a good one once we get her going. Then, off the court, she's dynamic. I mean, she engages the community. She engages our fans, and she's just brought a burst of energy down here to Tulsa. So it's been exciting so far with her."
The good news doesn't end there, though. After sitting out last season, superstar center Liz Cambage will return to the team this season adding some needed front court depth to the team. "With her progress and development she's had over the past couple of years, she could be the wild card for us in being a really really good team. She's a high-level player that could do a lot for us."
The young franchise will also get some veteran talent thrown into the mix, having signed Candice Wiggins in the offseason from the Minnesota Lynx.
"She's a great shooter and a great defender," Kloppenburg said. "She did a super job for Minnesota and she's at the next point in her career, where she wants to come in and take on a challenge like helping a young team move up the ladder."
With new talent and a new focus changing things up for the Shock, Kloppenburg said that hopes are high in Tulsa.
"We're going to prepare our team to try and win every game," he said. "We're going to make sure our team is playing at a 110 percent level every game. It's going to be a war every night. As far as wins and losses, we want to get into the playoffs. We want to be in that mix. Obviously that's your goal to try and make a run for championship. We're not going to set our sights low, we're going to try every game to win."

Seattle Storm Season Preview

For a team that will be without three players with a combined 15 All-Star appearances and more than 12,000 career points, the Seattle Storm will spend 2013 -- at least the early part of it -- looking for a leader.
Luckily for them the Storm still have a wealth of veterans -- even with Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Ann Wauters not suiting up, for various reasons -- to guide them through a season of uncertainty in the unforgiving Western Conference.
The trio that will step to the forefront will be Tina Thompson, the only player to compete in all 16 WNBA seasons and the league’s all-time leading scorer, Tanisha Wright, who’s played all eight seasons of her career with the Storm and Camille Little, a six-year veteran.
“All three of those people are extreme competitors and they take a lot of pride in who they are and how they play and they take a lot of pride in the type of team they play on,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “So I don’t think there’s any question that they’ll put their stamp on our team and everyone will fall in line surrounding that.”
A team that prides itself on tough defense -- they surrendered a league-best 71.6 points per game last year -- Seattle made the Playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the West in 2012 after compiling a 16-18 record, even with Jackson missing 25 games and Bird missing five. In the Playoffs, they came within a point of ousting the Minnesota Lynx in the first round.
Since Thompson finds herself in the twilight of her career -- she still managed to put up 8.9 points last season -- it appears Wright and Little will be counted on more than ever, especially if you like metaphors.
“I’ve always said that Tanisha, she’s sort of the heart and soul of our team and always has been over the past five years," Agler said. "And Camille, her makeup is sort of part of the fabric of our team, the way she plays and competes.”
Another player that should receive increased opportunities is Shekinna Stricklen, last year’s No. 2 pick in the WNBA Draft. With her production improving as the season went on last year, she finished 2012 averaging 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 23 minutes per game.
“I think (this season) is obviously a tremendous opportunity for someone like Shekinna Stricklen,” Agler said. “I don’t think there’s any question Shekinna will play a heavier role in terms of her minutes and what we rely on her do to on both ends of the floor.”
In terms of the daunting task of replacing both Bird and Jackson, it will be a total team effort, as no one player can single-handedly produce like those two legends. But two acquisitions may be called upon to attempt this more than others.
First, there’s point guard Temeka Johnson, coming off a year where she averaged a career-high 12.2 points and handed out 4.7 assists per night with Tulsa. She will be penciled in as the starter at the point and she will be expected to be a major contributor.
“Temeka has proven to be one of the better point guards in the league over the past several years so signing her was huge,” Agler said. “And as things have played out, it’s been pretty important that we have somebody like her because she has the same type of mentality we like in players. She’s very competitive, hard-nosed, values the defensive end, but at the same time she’s aggressive and makes players around her better.”
Temeka is added to a stable of perimeter players that also added Noelle Quinn, a player Agler said the team will “rely on heavily”, giving them a capable and diverse group of guards and wings to go with Stricklen and Wright.
In the frontcourt, left thin without Jackson and Wauters, the Storm turned to former Maryland forward Tianna Hawkins with the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft.
Hawkins was a rebounding major in college, finishing her career with 1,086 rebounds, only the third Maryland player to surpass 1,000 rebounds in history. She also shot 57.4 percent from the field at Maryland. If Hawkins can have an immediate impact, that will go a long way in filling the void in the post.
Luckily for Hawkins, as this rookie and this scrambling team inevitably endure some growing pains, there will be plenty of leaders to help steer the ship.

San Antonio Silver Stars Season Preview

The San Antonio Silver Stars enjoyed a solid season last year, highlighted by winning as many as 12 games in a row thanks to the lethal 1-2 punch of Becky Hammon and Sophia Young.
Unfortunately for San Antonio, however, Young suffered an ACL tear playing abroad in the offseason and is out indefinitely, leaving coach Dan Hughes with a huge void to fill.
"When she got hurt, that was substantial," Hughes said. "Sophia was a real staple for us, for what, eight years now. I think what's got to happen is our core of young players have got to step up. Those players have got to get better so that we can absorb Sophia's input."
Young was a solid defender and perimeter player that complemented Hammon's killer crossover and playmaking ability. Hughes said Hammon, whose timetable for return is currently unknown, shouldn't have to shoulder any extra weight for the team in Young's absence.
"I just want Becky to be Becky because daggone, she's been outstanding," Hughes said. "I don't want Becky to be anything other than what she's already been, and that's fantastic."
Instead, Hughes said he wants some of the younger players on the team like Danielle Robinson, Jayne Appel, Danielle Adams and Shenise Johnson to step up their game. In the offseason, the Silver Stars signed forward DeLisha Milton-Jones from the Los Angeles Sparks, a veteran player known for her tough defensive chops. Having her on the team will be key for replacing Young, Hughes said.
"I'm glad we don't have to play against her anymore," Hughes said with a laugh. "She can shoot the 3, yet has great length to create mismatches on defense. She's veteran enough to develop chemistry fast with our players, which is needed now with Sophia being hurt."
As far as how long the team expects Young to be out for, Hughes said Young will be evaluated in August on whether or not she's ready yet to get back on the court.
"She'll be evaluated and we'll see where she's at," Hughes said. "That's the earliest she would be released for contact. But even then, we don't know. It could be nine months, it could be a year. All we can do is wait and see."
Hughes said he feels great about his team's prospects this season and overall about the level of competition fans can expect to see this season.
"I think there's no question the league and teams are going to be better," Hughes said. "I'm really excited for this year. The competition is going to be good as we've ever seen. It's a great year for people to follow their teams and follow the WNBA."

Phoenix Mercury Season Preview

Phoenix Mercury point guard Samantha Prahalis, about to start her second WNBA season, has the right kind of problems.
"It's just tough when you have so many weapons on the court where a lot of people are open," Gaines said in regards to Prahalis' development. "When do you shoot? When do you pass? And it's always tough on a point guard."
That sounds precisely like the kind of "tough" the rest of the league would love to deal with, as the 2013 Mercury resemble more video game roster than WNBA team.
To tell the whole story of this year, however, is to know the story of last season. In what was a, well, troublesomecampaign for the Mercury -- one that saw marquee players Diana Taurasi miss 26 games, Candice Dupree miss 21 and Penny Taylor miss the entire season -- the Mercury (7-27) found themselves in an unfamiliar position at season's end: the Draft Lottery.
Luckily for them, not only did the 2013 WNBA Draft feature three game-changing, potentially generation-defining prospects, but one of those players -- Brittney Griner -- is unlike any talent the women's game has seen. Ever.
And, unless you've been crashing under a rock for the past month, you know how the lottery played out.
So, with the 6-foot-8 Griner entering the fold and Taurasi, Taylor and Dupree again joining forces with DeWanna Bonner, the second leading scorer in the WNBA last season, and Prahalis, who led all rookies in assists in 2012, the Mercury appear to be without weakness.
“There’s a different energy in the city and around the arena,” Taurasi told “It’s exciting and we players can definitely feel it. Now it’s our job to work as hard as we can to justify it.”
If the team performs anything like it looks on paper, they should justify it with ease. Griner's inside presence will turn a normally pedestrian team on the defensive end into a formidable one, and on the offensive end, where Gaines famously likes to push the ball, he will have Griner's rebounding and shot-blocking ability to spark the break.
"My mentor, Paul Westhead, who won a championship with the Lakers and a championship in the WNBA -- the only man to do that. The good thing about his offense and his style is it adjusts to the players you have. Period," Gaines said. "You have a certain kind of player, you adjust to that."
Griner is a one-of-a-kind player. And, in what has been the biggest revelation coming out of Mercury camp thus far, she appears very capable of running the floor with her teammates.
Yes, imagine that. Griner running the break, flanked by Taurasi and Bonner with Taylor trailing.
Which gets you to thinking, who will Prahalis pass to?

Minnesota Lynx Season Preview

If you believe in astrology, bunkered down during the Mayan Apocalypse or just prescribe to the power of patterns, then 2013 could be a good year for the Minnesota Lynx.
Why? After losing to the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Finals last season, fortunes in Minnesota this year seem prosperous based off a cycle that its star player, Maya Moore, started a decade ago.
“I can go back to 13 years old. I lost in the national championship game with my AAU team in Georgia. The next year we went back to win the national championship,” Maya started.
“My freshman year in high school we lost in the state championship, we went on to win the next three.
My freshman year in college we lost in the Final Four to Stanford, we went on to win the next two, undefeated.
My senior year we lost in the Final Four. Next year we won with the Lynx, my rookie year.
Last year we lost to the Indiana Fever and I went on to go to China and win the whole thing.”
If you haven’t gotten the point yet, let Maya clear it up for you.
“I’ve lost,” Moore said. “But I try not to lose two times in a row.
The rest of the league -- which has been swooned by Phoenix’s marquee additions, has labeled Los Angeles a chic pick to win it all and that has been infused with game-changing talent from this rookie class -- has been put on notice.
Moore, who says she always has a bad taste in her mouth after losing, feels confident that the same-old Lynx can get back to the WNBA Finals. Returning the majority of its core -- minus Candice Wiggins and Taj Mc-Williams Franklin -- the Lynx, which still sport a trio of 2012 U.S. Olympians in Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Moore and that went 27-7 in the regular season last year, look to be as tough as ever.
“I feel so blessed and privileged to be able to come back to a veteran squad,” Moore said. “We have the talent to get back to the Finals and win another championship this season.”
The Lynx key offseason addition was Janel McCarville, who was the first overall selection in the 2005 WNBA Draft and most recently was playing overseas. McCarville, who teamed with Whalen to take an unheralded University of Minnesota team to the Final Four in 2004, will step in and replace the production of Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who retired at the age of 42 this offseason.
“Janel is here and willing to work and wanting to help us any way she can,” Moore said. “She’s going to add some great fluidity to our offense with her passing ability, so I’m really excited about that. She’s definitely someone that is going to add chemistry – she’s not going to hurt chemistry.”
It’s a chemistry that this team has forged over the past several seasons. Minnesota has posted back-to-back 27-win seasons with two trips to the WNBA Finals appearances in the process, winning it all in 2011.
Flanking Moore, the Lynx have Whalen, regarded as one of the top point guards in the league, Augustus, one of the league’s most consistent scorers, and Rebekkah Brunson, one of the league’s unsung heroes in the post.
Still, this amount of talent doesn’t guarantee success.
“Winning in this league is extremely hard and last year showed that,” Moore said. “Every year shows it, but especially last year for us. If you have a little bit that doesn’t go your way and you don’t make it happen, you can come up short to a really great team that you’re playing against.”
But, if history is any indication, Moore won’t let that happen this year.

Los Angeles Sparks Season Preview

In perhaps one of the most emotional moments in the WNBA last season, Candace Parker walked off the court during the Playoffs in tears last October, seeking comfort on the shoulder of her mother.
The Los Angeles Sparks had held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, looking just minutes away from forcing a Game 3. The Lynx closed the gap, but a Parker 3-pointer with 1:31 left put the Sparks up two. They wouldn't score again, however, and Minnesota edged L.A. with an 80-79 win, thus keeping Parker from her first trip to the WNBA Finals -- a gut-wrenching blow for a team that could have conceivably won a WNBA title.
"We're going to take that and let that be a motivational factor as we move into this season," Los Angeles coach Carol Ross said. "Clearly we will use all of our experiences, both good and bad, and try to be a better team moving forward. Those moments break your heart, but you love coaching players that take winning and losing so much to heart."
The Sparks had one of the toughest cores in the league last year with Parker and 2012 Rookie of the Year Nneka Ogwumike dominating inside and with clutch shooter Kristi Toliver burning the nets from the wing. This season, that core is about to get even stronger after the team signed guard Lindsey Harding from the Atlanta Dream. Ross, last year's WNBA Coach of the Year, is no stranger to Harding, having coached her during her time with the Dream before she came to Los Angeles.
"She's going to bring some speed to the floor on both ends," Ross said. "She's going to open up shots and make them easier for all of her teammates. She's extroverted - an energy type player - and typically teammates love playing with those kinds of players."
Ross said adding Harding will give the team some much-needed depth in their backcourt. Harding's speed complements the team's centerpiece offensive strategy of scoring baskets on transition, she said.
"When we're in transition, it's going to be just 'whoever gets the ball, lets go,'" Ross said. "That way we canove faster and have multiple options to kick the play into overdrive."
Expectations are always high in Los Angeles, and the team expects to make a legitimate run for the title once again this season. But the way the landscape will change this season as a result of the influx of megastar draft picks, injuries to key players, and game-changing roster moves makes this season a difficult one to predict, Ross said.
"We've got our fair share of talent, a lot of other teams are excited about their teams as well," Ross said. "It's going to be hard to predict. You couldn't predict last year that Indiana was going to win it but they put a run together at the right time. Every team has talent and it's going to be fun to watch it all play out."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Washington Mystics Season Preview

After a winter of surprises -- most notably, the one that handed them the first pick in the Draft after the can't-miss Big 3 -- the Washington Mystics figured they might as well throw one more into the mix.
So, when the rest of the women's basketball world seemed to reach a consensus that Washington would select Texas A&M center Kelsey Bone at No. 4, the Mystics traded for Quanitra Hollingsworth and selected Ohio State guard Tayler Hill instead.
And they're hoping that Hill's the first of many fortunate surprises to descend, at last, on The District.
Brand-new coach Mike Thibault has reasons to suspect that they might. Granted, the issue with coming off a five-win season is that you still have most of the players from that five-win season -- "We kind of need everything right now," Thibault said before Draft. But with Crystal Langhorne and Monique Curry forming a veteran core and Hill joining the fold, the foundation's getting stronger. Throw in fellow offseason additions Kia Vaughn (from the Liberty) and Ivory Latta (from Tulsa) and a 20-year-old training camp revelation named Emma Meeseman, and it's not hard to find progress in a town known for stalemates.
In any other Draft year, Hill would have lived in spotlight, not shadow. As creative and capable a scorer as anyone in the country not named Elena Delle Donne last year, she put up 21.1 ppg while playing through complications from strep throat. She can defend, too: she posted more than 240 steals in her career at Columbus.
But this is still Langhorne's team.
The Mystics' leading scorer over the past three seasons is coming off her lowest scoring average (14.7) since 2009, albeit during a season in which she shot 56.2 percent from the field. What that meant? Langhorne was more than the focal point of the Washington offense. She was the offense. And as she earned double-teams, she took fewer shots.
But with the additions of Hill and Latta on the perimeter and Vaughn on the inside -- whom the Mystics picked up from the Liberty in February trade -- she should have a little more room to operate this year.
Not to mention a little more gas in the tank, thanks to a different approach from her Dynamo Moscow team.
"Langhorne had a coach in Europe who realized she needed rest," Thibault said. "They haven't been the usual two-a-day practices. She's feeling good about it."
Had Thibault not been able to cajole the Liberty into letting go of Vaughn, a Sixth Woman of the Year Candidate in 2011 who saw her minutes slide last year, they'd likely have selected Bone. But with Vaughn, a force on the glass and in the paint on both ends of the floor, the coach said he's found the right compliment to Langhorne.
"Bone is an intriguing talent, but right now, today, Kia Vaughn's a better player," Thibault said.
And if Meeseman works out, Thibault may have one of the biggest surprises of the WNBA season. The 20-year-old Belgian led her U18 Belgian team to a European Championship title last year and earned the rank of top European Young Women’s player in 2011. But, according to's Jeremy Hyman after signing a deal with Spartak, the Russian power allowed her to spend her first two years closer to home in Northern France. And when Meeseman expressed interest in coming Stateside to play in the WNBA, Thibault jumped at the chance, selecting the phenom with the No. 19 pick.
If she sticks, Meeseman will provide a tall (6-foot-4) frame that can also expand the floor, giving the Mystics a much-needed boost after the team shot just 30 percent from 3-point range last year.
Ditto on Latta, a point guard who hit 39 percent of her shots from behind the arc for Tulsa in 2011. And if Currie can regain the form that saw her go .446 from distance in 2010, this Mystics team could do a lot more than simply surprise.

New York Liberty Season Preview

New York Liberty GM/Head Coach Bill Laimbeer has established a reputation over the years, dating back to his Bad Boys NBA playing days with the Detroit Pistons and then again during his WNBA coaching tenure with the Shock. He wins, but he isn't exactly the friendliest guy to compete with or against. Laimbeer's from the Old School, where you play hard, tell it like it is and move forward toward the only one real goal: a championship. Any niceties that may get in the way of reaching that goal are studiously avoided. 

It's in this spirit that Laimbeer is looking to revamp the New York Liberty in 2013, one year after an up-and-down 2012 campaign where the squad struggled for periods, made a late regular-season run to snatch the final Eastern Conference playoff spot before succumbing to 2012 WNBA Most Valuable Player Tina Charles and the Connecticut Sun in the postseason. "Anytime a team doesn’t win the championship, you must assess where the team is at, and decide to stay the course or make significant changes," said Laimbeer. "I felt significant changes were needed." 

To that end, Nicole Powell and Kia Vaughn were moved out and Cheryl Ford, Katie Smith and the rights to Deanna Nolan, all three former Shock players of Laimbeer's during his first stint in the W, were acquired by New York. Additionally, the Liberty picked up three draft picks -- 6-4 forward/center Kelsey Bone (Texas A&M), 6-2 forward Toni Young (Oklahoma State) and 5-11 guard Kamiko Williams (Tennessee) -- who may stick with the team and contribute this season. 

"You always want youth, not only for the energy, but for your future. These rookies will get a great education from the championship veterans that we have on the roster," said Laimbeer. "As far as my rookies, any rookie will tell you this when they get in the league and get in practice they look around and they're in awe of how big the players are and how fast they are and how strong they are." 

"Once they get past that one, I think Kelsey Bone has done a fine job of adjusting quickly. You don't have to tell her twice on things. She wants to learn; she has a good work ethic; she picks up things very fast," said Laimbeer, who was then characteristically blunt his other first-round pick. "Young has been a little bit behind, but she's made really good progress in the last few days. She's gotten over the overwhelmed part from being from Oklahoma coming to a big city in New York. So she's starting to fit in a little bit better, and we're still very confident she's going to work out." 

Another player who Laimbeer thinks will work out is All-WNBA guard Cappie Pondexter, who was a late arrival to camp after completing her off-season commitment in Turkey, which resulted in a rough first week of camp. 

"We started off slow, the first week was not the best. Cappie wasn't here and it was like pulling teeth. The second week we improved, culminating with a win against Connecticut. I think every day we're getting better and better as practices go on. I think we're doing OK," said Laimbeer. "We put a whole new system in that she [Ponddexter] had no clue coming in. It will probably take her three or four weeks before she will catches up to the rest of them. Once that happens I have all the confidence in the world putting her out there as the lead guard." 

And with Pondexter leading the way, the veteran leadership provided by Ford and Smith and the contributions from the younger players, look for the Liberty to compete with the same intensity and drive of their coach and make a playoff run in 2013.

Indian Fever Season Preview

The Indiana Fever, collectively -- and Lin Dunn and Tamika Cathings, individually -- finally reached their goal last season, winning the WNBA Championship in an unlikely upset of the defending champion Minnesota Lynx in a thrilling 2012 Finals showdown. But now the question must be asked, can they do it again? 

Catchings, who as a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, 2011 WNBA Most Valuable Player had achieved just about every individual accolade available, was single-minded of her pursuit of the WNBA Championship that had so long eluded her, but as 2013 approaches, she is transitioning from celebratory to go-win-another-one mode. 

"We got that championship last year. Against all odds," said Catchings, who secured the 2012 WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award in leading the Fever past Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and the Minnesota Lynx. "Let’s face it, on paper when you looked at the two teams in the Finals, you had to know they were going to win. But for us, it was like mind over matter. We didn’t care what people thought, or how it looked on paper. We concentrated on what happened on the court. Katie [Douglas] went down, and players stepped up. Jeanette [Pohlen) went down and players stepped up." 

After permitting herself one last look at past glory, Catchings immediately looked to future. 

"But, I’m still motivated to win the WNBA Championship in 2013, probably more now than ever," said Catchings. "I think this year, now that we know what we are capable of, and if we can stay healthy, we can stay strong and make another run. One thing I’ve always been conscious of is when you have success, how to you sustain and build on it to do it again? That’s the motivation." 

Unfortunately for the Fever, the healthy part isn't exactly working out well as the season approaches. Three key members of last year's championship squad -- Jeanette Pohlen, Jessica Davenport and Erin Phillips -- are currently out of the lineup due to injury, which leaves Head Coach Lin Dunn in quite a quandary. 

"Well, our hope is that now that we've lost (Jeanette) Pohlen, (Jessica) Davenport and Erin Phillips and they won't be back until probably mid-season is that we'll get some relief," said Dunn. "But I think you can expect us to start ... Friday night at San Antonio with nine players. I'm hoping for nine. So we'll just do the best that we can do with what we've got and not worry about what we don't have." 

One thing Dunn will not be worrying about is the fact that with the "3 To See" -- Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky) and Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock) -- garnering lots of headlines, and two Western Conference powers -- the Candace Parker-led Los Angeles Sparks and the aforementioned 2011 WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx -- also looking strong, the Fever may be able to slip into the season under the radar. 

"I think we'd certainly prefer to be the hunter versus the hunted," said Dunn. "And the fact that we sustained some injuries early with some of our players and they're recovering from off-season surgery, I do think we'll be overlooked and that's fine. I don't take that the wrong way. When you come back and a couple key players aren't available, I think the other people are going to get a little more attention." 

With Catchings, Katie Douglas, Briann January, Erlana Larkins, Shavonte Zellous and rookie Layshia Clarendon healthy and raring to go, don't bet against Indiana gaining attention once the post-season arrives.

Chicago Sky Season Preview

Take it back to early March, when the '2' in No. 2 overall pick looked a whole lot more like a '?

Brittney Griner had been slotted into the No. 1 spot in the 2013 WNBA Draft ever since a middle-school growth spurt. But the second pick -- the one that belonged to the Chicago Sky -- wasn't quite so clear. Hoops-wise, Elena Delle Donne looked like the favorite, what with her center size and Steph Curry range. But Skylar Diggins, a hometown sensation, born leader and marketing sunburst, was the safe bet. 

Then the country got to watch Delle Donne in action, blowing through double-teams and shooting over triple-teams to take the Delaware women's basketball team to a place that Delaware basketball -- in all likelihood -- never expected to go. 

Now, the questions go something like this: is a team that hasn't made the Playoffs in its seven years of existence, theonly team in the WNBA to never reach the postseason, really the favorite to come out of the East? 

"Getting that national ranking, getting to the Sweet Sixteen, was something no one thought we could do," Delle Donnesaid of her time at Delaware. "Now, it's time to do stuff like that for the Sky. We haven't made the Playoffs, so that's No. 1. Make the Playoffs. Then keep pushing the limits, do things people don't think we can do. I think anything is possible with this team." 

The pieces were already in place for a run last year. If not for Tina Charles, center and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles would rank as the elite pivot player in the WNBA. And had an injury not taken away half of Epiphanny Prince's season -- after Prince had rolled out to the hottest start of her career, leading the WNBA in scoring -- the Sky almost certainly would have cracked the Playoffs. 

Now, they're both back. Swin Cash -- and all the matchup problems she presents -- too. And they're all healthy. And along with ever-improving point guard Courtney Vandersloot, whose progress essentially gave the Sky the confidence to go with Delle Donne instead of Diggins, they've got someone to fit the pieces together. 

Because right now, heading into the most important season in team history, the Chicago Sky could feature a starting five that looks something like an All-Star team: Vandersloot at point, Prince at 2, (the 6-foot-5) Delle Donne at 3, Hall of Famer Cash at 4 and Fowles at 5. 

"Elena is going to make everyone else's job easier. With her size and ability to hurt you from the three-point line, Syl was getting lots of room down low and I was getting a bunch of looks that were even better than the looks I get in practice," Cash said after the Sky's first preseason game. "We are going to be getting lots of chances to knock down open shots. It's a real benefit to the whole team." 

But, for potentially the first time in Sky history, there's some serious depth, too. In addition to Delle Donne, all six of the team's leading scorers are back. Guard Eshaya Murphy scored 8.5 points in just 18.6 minutes a night last year, shooting 44 percent from distance. Forward Tamera Young brings power on the wing and in the paint, along with a rebounding presence and a sure shot (42.3 percent from the field). Allie Quigley, signed in the offseason, had a solid debut in the preseason, going for 14 points on 50 percent shooting against the Liberty. 

And all that means that, after years of hopes cut short, the Chicago Sky have arrived. 

"You should expect every single game we will play hard," Cash said. "We're trying to do something this franchise has never done, which is to make the playoffs. But we know it won't be easy, so we are all committed to working hard to make that happen for our fans and the people of Chicago."

Atlanta Dream Season Preview

You might've heard a few things about this offseason. Like how a fresh wave of players is about to breathe new life into the WNBA, sweeping into the league at the same time that the league unveiled a brand-new logo -- a new standard -- to represent the modern age of the WNBA. 

All of that? Griner? Diggins? Delle Donne? New. New. New. 

But if the Atlanta Dream are going to reach their third WNBA Finals appearance in four years -- and pick up their first-ever Finals win -- it's because of how much has stayed the same. 

Sure, the Dream have some new faces, including a coach (Fred Williams) who only ran the team for half the year last year, after coaching Atlanta as an assistant for years. Three rookies (including No. 13 pick Alex Bentley and No. 31 pick Anne Marie Armstrong) made the roster out of training camp. Two new players (guard Jasmine Thomas and forward Le'coe Willingham) joined the team in the offseason. But of the core players that drove the Dream to their historically quick rise from conception to contenders, all but one player's back. 

And when the Dream open up on Saturday against Skylar Diggins and the Tulsa Shock, they'll be running. 

"I think what we do really well is play uptempo basketball," said Dream coach Fred Williams, who took over from Marynell Meadors during the 2012 season. "We really force opponents to get back on their heels on defense and we want to continue that." 

Lindsey Harding left in the offseason, going to LA and carving a void into the point guard role that Thomas can help to fill. But of the big names, they're back. Sancho Lyttle returns to the post a year after putting up a career-high 14 points and 2.5 assists a night. Armintie Herrington (nee Price) comes back with a new name, but the same skill-set that's made her one of the league's most reliable wing players. 

Meanwhile, the Dream made one big addition, in a sense: a full year from Erika de Souza. While the Dream didn't add any pieces of the league-rattling sort, de Souza will patrol the paint from the start of the year, as opposed to a season prior, when she only joined the Dream after competing for Brazil in the Olympics. 

Then there's Angel McCoughtry. 

Tumultuous, temperamental and tremendously talented, McCoughtry's served as the core of the Dream since she came into the league in 2009. No player can put the ball the hoop in as many ways, from the paint to the perimeter. No player can hollow out a defense with such frantic precision. And no player dictates quite as much of her team's fate as Angel McCoughtry. 

When she's playing well, so are the Dream. When she's not, everything grinds to a halt. But after a disappointing 2012 campaign (relatively speaking), the Dream have a year's more maturity to work with, and a bitter taste to get rid of. 

And in an East that suddenly got a whole lot tougher, Atlanta's set to attack from the start -- the same way they always did under Meadors, Williams said. 

"We just have to be patient down the stretch in certain situations, but the main thing we learned is you gotta finish real strong within your conference of being a top team there and gain home court," Williams said. "The main thing is that we've been there. We'll got there early, but we got a taste of what it takes to be in the Finals."