WNBA team-by-team preview

WNBA team-by-team preview

WNBA team-by-team preview
By ASSOCIATED PRESS

Team-by-team look at the WNBA, which opens its 12th season Saturday

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTA DREAM


COACH: Marynell Meadors, 1st season with team, 38-32 overall.

KEY ADDITIONS: G Betty Lennox (expansion draft, Seattle); G Ivory Latta (trade, Detroit); F Iziane Castro Marques (trade, Seattle); F Kristen Mann (expansion draft, Minnesota); C Katie Feenstra (expansion draft, Detroit); G Kristin Haynie (expansion draft, Sacramento); F Camille Little (trade, San Antonio); G Tamera Young (draft, No. 8, James Madison); F Stacey Lovelace (free agent).

STRENGTH: Postseason experience. Lennox and Castro Marques won titles with Seattle in 2004, and Haynie with Sacramento in 2005. Feenstra and Latta gained playoff experience with defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit last year.

WEAKNESSES: Chemistry, experience. As an expansion team, the Dream likely will need some time to develop cohesion. Other than Lennox and Castro Marques, reserves Chantelle Anderson and Stacey Lovelace are the only players with more than three years in the league. Chicago won just five games in its first season in 2006. The previous four new teams - Indiana, Miami, Portland and Seattle - averaged 9.5 wins as expansion teams in 2000.

CHICAGO SKY

2007: 14-20, 6th place.

COACH: Steven Key, 1st season.

KEY ADDITIONS: C Sylvia Fowles (draft, No. 2, LSU); G Quianna Chaney (draft, No. 19, LSU); G Angela Tisdale (draft, No. 33, Baylor).

KEY LOSSES: G Stacey Dales (retirement); F Carla Thomas (expansion draft, Atlanta).

STRENGTHS: Frontcourt, backcourt. Candice Dupree averaged team highs of 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in her second season, and was complemented by veteran center Chasity Melvin (9.9 points and 6.7 rebounds), who came from Washington in an early season trade. Melvin has moved to power forward this year to make room for the 6-5 Fowles, who averaged 15.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in four years at LSU. Reigning rookie of the year Armintie Price (7.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists) and the veteran Dominique Canty (8.6 points, career-high 4.1 assists) anchor a strong backcourt, which was tied for third in the league in assists.

WEAKNESSES: Depth, defense. Chicago was 10th in the league in scoring and 3-point shooting percentage, 12th in field-goal shooting and last in free-throw shooting. Also, the Sky were 11th in field-goal percentage defense and last in 3-point shooting defense. Although Chicago was fifth in rebounding, it was 12th in rebounding defense. Both should improve with Fowles' presence. The reserves accounted for less than one-third of the team's scoring. The Sky have their third coach in three years, though Key was an assistant under the previous two.

CONNECTICUT SUN

2007: 18-16, 3rd; lost to Indiana 2-1 in first round.

COACH: Mike Thibault, 6th season, 106-64.

KEY ADDITIONS: F Tamika Whitmore (trade, Indiana); F Tamika Raymond (trade, Minnesota); G-F Barbara Turner (trade, Houston); F Amber Holt (draft, No. 9, Middle Tennessee State); G Ketia Swanier (draft, No. 12, Connecticut).

KEY LOSSES: G Katie Douglas (trade, Indiana); F Nykesha Sales (sitting out); C Margo Dydek (pregnancy); F Le'Coe Willingham (free agent, Phoenix); C Erika Desouza (expansion draft, Atlanta).

STRENGTH: Backcourt. Point guard Lindsay Whalen averaged career highs of 13.4 points and 4.8 rebounds, along with her league-leading 5.0 assists. She is the key to the offense and will be counted on even more with the roster turnover. Whalen will likely be joined in the starting backcourt by Evanthia Maltsi, who averaged 5.7 points and shot nearly 42 percent on 3-pointers after joining the Sun near midseason. Jamie Carey, Turner and Swanier will also likely get plenty of minutes.

WEAKNESSES: Scoring, chemistry. Without Douglas and Sales, Whalen is the lone starter remaining from a core group that had been together since 2004. The Sun were fourth in the league in scoring, second in rebounding and tops in blocks, but will be diminished in those categories without Douglas (17.0 ppg and 4.7 rpg), Sales (13.1 ppg and 4.0 rpg) and Dydek (6.5 rpg and 2.1 bpg). Asjha Jones (15.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) was strong in her first season as a starter. She will be key on offense, along with Whalen and Whitmore (10.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg with Indiana).

DETROIT SHOCK

2007: 24-10, 2nd; lost to Phoenix 3-2 in finals.

COACH: Bill Laimbeer, 7th season, 114-78.

KEY ADDITIONS: G Alexis Hornbuckle (draft, No. 4, Tennessee); F Tasha Humphrey (draft, No. 11, Georgia); G Sheri Sam (free agent, Indiana); F LaToya Thomas (trade, Atlanta).

KEY LOSSES: F Swin Cash (trade, Seattle); G Shannon Johnson (free agent, Houston); C Katie Feenstra (expansion draft, Atlanta); G Ivory Latta (trade, Atlanta).

STRENGTHS: Experience, defense. Coming off their third finals appearance in five years, the Shock return the core of the team largely intact. Deanna Nolan (16.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.9 apg) and Katie Smith (13.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.6 apg) anchor the backcourt after starting every regular-season game the last two years. Detroit, third in the league in scoring, was tops in rebounding for the fifth straight season and the only team to hold opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field. The Shock were successful even with All-Star game MVP Cheryl Ford (13.0 ppg, 11.2 rpg) missing more than half the season due to various injuries. Plenette Pierson (11.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) is the top reserve, and Thomas, Hornbuckle - a two-time NCAA champion with the Lady Vols - and Humphrey will get plenty of minutes.

WEAKNESS: Consistency. Detroit has the balance to contend for the title every year, but is often hampered by a lack of consistent play. The Shock were fifth in the league in turnovers and last in steals. Detroit was third in 3-point shooting percentage, but 11th in makes and attempts. Still, the Shock figure to be the top team in the East.

INDIANA FEVER

2007: 21-13, 3rd; lost to Detroit 2-1 in conference semifinals.

COACH: Lin Dunn, 1st season with team, 33-63 overall.

KEY ADDITIONS: G Katie Douglas (trade, Connecticut); G Allison Feaster (free agent); F Khadijah Whittington (draft, No. 26, N.C. State );

KEY LOSSES: F Tamika Whitmore (trade, Connecticut); G Anna DeForge (free agent, Minnesota); G Sheri Sam (free agent, Detroit ).

STRENGTHS: Backcourt, defense. Douglas vastly improves the Fever's guard play. The two-time All-Star is coming off a career-high 17.0 ppg with the Sun last year, and will team with Tully Bevilaqua (5.3 ppg, 2.7 apg) and Tan White (10.8 ppg) in the backcourt. Douglas , a three-time All-Defensive First Team selection, will certainly bolster a Fever team that was tops in the league in scoring defense, and second in steals, field-goal shooting defense and opponents' turnovers.

WEAKNESSES: Chemistry, scoring balance. The offense has usually been too reliant on Catchings, perennially the team's leader in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. The Fever were 16-4 before Catchings injured her left foot and missed the rest of the regular season. She returned for the playoffs but injured an Achilles' tendon in Game 3 of the conference finals. Catchings is still recovering from that and will miss the early part of the season. Douglas will have to shoulder most of the scoring burden in her absence. Feaster was brought in for her outside shooting. Indiana's success mainly hinges on how much time Catchings misses, and how quickly the team jells with Douglas and former assistant coach Dunn at the helm.

NEW YORK LIBERTY

2007: 16-18, 4th; lost to Detroit 2-1 in first round.

COACH: Pat Coyle, 5th season, 56-64.

KEY ADDITIONS: G Essence Carson (draft, No. 7, Rutgers); F Erlana Larkins (draft, No. 14, North Carolina).

KEY LOSSES: F Barbara Farris (free agent, Phoenix ).

STRENGTHS: Perimeter shooting, defense. The Liberty got off to a strong start on 3-point shooting and finished as the league's top team beyond the arc. Cathrine Kraayeveld led the way at 41.1 percent, followed by Loree Moore (40.7) and Erin Thorn (39.0). New York also got a boost in the middle with the emergence of Janel McCarville, who averaged 14.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 28.4 minutes while starting New York 's final 21 games to earn the league's Most Improved Player award. Jessica Davenport and Tiffany Jackson should be better after inconsistent rookie campaigns. Although the Liberty were last in the league in scoring, they were third in steals, fourth in scoring defense and field-goal shooting defense. The defensive-minded Carson is a perfect fit.

WEAKNESS: Experience. The rebuilt Liberty will again be one of the youngest teams in the league. Thorn, in her sixth season, and Christon, in her fifth, are the veterans. None of the other players has more than three years of experience in the league. One year after the worst season in franchise history, New York returned to the postseason and came within shots of beating Detroit in both Games 2 and 3 in the first round.

WASHINGTON MYSTICS

2007: 16-18, 5th.

COACH: Tree Rollins, 2nd season, 15-14.

KEY ADDITIONS: F Taj McWilliams-Franklin (trade, Los Angeles); G Amber Jacobs (free agent, Minnesota); F Crystal Langhorne (draft, No. 6, Maryland).

KEY LOSSES: F DeLisha Milton-Jones (trade, Los Angeles); G Nikki Teasley (waived).

STRENGTH: Scoring balance. The Mystics have four players who scored in double figures last season - Alana Beard (18.9 ppg), Nakia Sanford (11.0), McWilliams-Franklin (10.9 with Los Angeles) and Monique Currie (10.4). With Teasley gone, Nikki Blue (3.6 ppg, 1.6 apg, 14.1 mpg) will likely start with Jacobs as the backup at the point. Beard battled a shoulder injury last season and had surgery in September. She joined a Polish team in March before returning to the Mystics, but will miss the first two games of the season.

WEAKNESSES: Defense, shooting. Washington was 10th in the league in scoring defense and 11th in rebounding. The Mystics were also last in shooting, both overall and on 3-pointers, and assists. Nakia Sanford was solid (career-high 11.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg) at center after the early season trade of Chasity Melvin to Chicago. The 37-year-old McWilliams-Franklin will be counted on to help in the frontcourt after averaging 10.9 ppg and career-low 5.7 rpg in her lone season with the Sparks.

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

HOUSTON COMETS


2007: 13-21, 5th.

COACH: Karleen Thompson, 2nd season with team, 24-24 overall.

KEY ADDITIONS: G Matee Ajavon (draft, No. 5, Rutgers); G Shannon Johnson (free agent, Detroit); G Mwadi Mabika (free agent, Los Angeles); G Erica White (draft, No. 17, LSU).

KEY LOSSES: G-F Barbara Turner (trade, Connecticut); F Sheryl Swoopes (free agent, Seattle).

STRENGTHS: Experience, backcourt. Swoopes is gone after 11 years with the Comets, but she played only three games before a season-ending injury last season. Five-time All-Star Tina Thompson, the lone holdover left from the Houston team that won the league's first four championships from 1997-2000, is back for her 12th season. Tamecka Dixon rejoined the team midway through last season and finished with 12.0 ppg and 3.2 apg in 18 games. Dixon will likely back up Johnson at the point along with Ashley Shields. Ajavon is also likely to get a lot of minutes in the backcourt.

WEAKNESSES: Offense, chemistry. The Comets were 11th in the league in scoring, and averaged a league-low 3.7 3-pointers made per game - the only team below 4.5. Houston also averaged a league-leading 17.7 turnovers and was second-worst in opponents' steals. Mabika, another 11-year veteran, can still shoot 3s but last averaged double-figure scoring in 2004. Nearly half the roster consists of players with at least nine years' experience, and nearly half with three or fewer. Houston's improvement will depend on how fast the veterans and young players jell in Karleen Thompson's second season.

LOS ANGELES SPARKS

2007: 10-24, tied for 6th.

COACH: Michael Cooper, 7th season, 126-55.

KEY ADDITIONS: C Lisa Leslie (return from pregnancy); F Candace Parker (draft, No. 1, Tennessee); F DeLisha Milton-Jones (trade, Washington); G Marie Ferdinand-Harris (free agent, San Antonio); G Shannon Bobbitt (draft, No. 16, Tennessee).

KEY LOSSES: G Mwadi Mabika (free agent, Houston); F LaToya Thomas (expansion draft, Atlanta); F Taj McWilliams-Franklin (trade, Washington);

STRENGTHS: Frontcourt, experience. Leslie is back, along with her career averages of 17.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.4 apg and 2.2 bpg. She is joined by rookie sensation Parker, who averaged 19.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg in three seasons for the Lady Vols. Milton-Jones, reacquired from Washington last month after averaging 13.1 ppg and 5.6 rpg for the Mystics the last three seasons, teamed with Leslie on the Sparks' back-to-back championship teams under Cooper in 2001 and '02. Christi Thomas is in her fifth year with the Sparks, and Ferdinand-Harris is in her seventh year in the league.

WEAKNESS: Chemistry. The Sparks have a formidable starting five with Temeka Johnson and Sidney Spencer joining the big trio up front. The only question will be how quickly everyone jells playing together. Leslie was out for the entire season and Johnson only played in 11 games after recovering from offseason knee surgery. Spencer gained valuable experience as a rookie last year, and is reunited with former Tennessee teammates Parker and Bobbitt.

MINNESOTA LYNX

2007: 10-24, tied for 6th.

COACH: Don Zierden, 2nd season, 10-24.

KEY ADDITIONS: G Candice Wiggins (draft, No. 3, Stanford); G Anna DeForge (free agent, Indiana); F-C Nicky Anosike (draft, No. 16, Tennessee); C Kristen Rasmussen (trade, Connecticut).

KEY LOSSES: F Svetlana Abrosimova (free agent); G Amber Jacobs (free agent, Washington); F Tamika Raymond (trade, Connecticut); F Kristen Mann (expansion draft, Atlanta ).

STRENGTH: Backcourt. The Lynx are solid with Seimone Augustus (22.6 ppg), Lindsey Harding, Noelle Quinn and Shay Murphy. Harding's season-ending knee injury last year allowed Quinn to gain experience at point guard and Murphy averaged 5.2 ppg and 3.2 rpg as a reserve. Although Harding is out indefinitely this season with a stress fracture in her left knee, Minnesota's backcourt will again be strong with the addition of the veteran DeForge and rookie Wiggins (19.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.2 apg in four years at Stanford). Augustus will likely move to small forward.

WEAKNESSES: Interior defense, experience. The Lynx finished last in the league in blocks and field-goal percentage defense, and second-to-last in scoring defense and steals. Minnesota has only two players - newcomers DeForge and Rasmussen - with more than four years of experience.

PHOENIX MERCURY

2007: 23-11, 1st; beat Detroit 3-2 to win WNBA championship.

COACH: Corey Gaines, 1st season.

KEY ADDITIONS: F LaToya Pringle (draft, No. 13, North Carolina ); C Barbara Farris (free agent, New York); F Le'Coe Willingham (free agent, Connecticut).

KEY LOSSES: F Jennifer Lacy (expansion draft, Atlanta);

STRENGTH: Offense. After heading into the All-Star break at 11-9, the Mercury were nearly unbeatable the rest of the way. Phoenix won 12 of 14 to close the regular season, then swept Seattle and San Antonio before beating Detroit. Former coach Paul Westhead's frenetic offense was tops in the league in scoring, led by Diana Taurasi (19.2 ppg), Penny Taylor (17.8) and Cappie Pondexter (17.2). The system will be mainly the same under Gaines, who has been familiar with Westhead's system for nearly 20 years - starting as a player at Loyola Marymount in 1986-87. Gaines' biggest challenge will be replacing Taylor, who is training with the Australian national team and will not join the Mercury until the final stretch run after the Olympics. Tangela Smith (12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Kelly Mazzante (34 percent shooting on 3s) could see bigger roles in the offense.

WEAKNESS: Defense. On the flip side of the offense-first system, Phoenix was last in the league in scoring defense, first in turnovers, eighth in rebounding, and sixth in steals.

SACRAMENTO MONARCHS

2007: 19-15, 3rd; lost to San Antonio 2-1 in first round.

COACH: Jenny Boucek, 2nd season, 19-15

KEY ADDITIONS: C Laura Harper (draft, No. 10, Maryland ); G A'Quonesia Franklin (draft, No. 38, Texas A&M).

KEY LOSSES: F Yolanda Griffith (free agent, Seattle); F DeMya Walker (knee injury); G Kristin Haynie (expansion draft, Atlanta ).

STRENGTHS: Backcourt, experience. Ticha Penicheiro (5.7 ppg, 4.5 apg, 1.5 spg) anchors a strong backcourt again. Chelsea Newton (6.4 ppg) is solid at shooting guard, and All-Star reserve Kara Lawson (11.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.0 apg) could start for most teams. Penicheiro, Lawson, Rebekkah Brunson and Nicole Powell remain from the team that played in consecutive WNBA finals in 2005 and '06, and Newton was on the 2005 championship team.

WEAKNESSES: Frontcourt, depth. Although her numbers declined, Griffith still averaged 9.0 ppg and 4.6 rpg while starting 32 games. Rebekkah Brunson (11.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg) moved into the starting lineup after Walker's season-ending knee injury last year. Nicole Powell (12.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) was a strong complement up front. Walker will miss the entire season this year after reinjuring her knee in the preseason. The Monarchs struggled for consistency in the second half and didn't do much to bolster the frontcourt. Losing Haynie hurts the backcourt depth.

SAN ANTONIO SILVER STARS

2007: 20-14, 2nd; lost to Phoenix 2-0 in conference finals.

COACH: Dan Hughes, 4th season with team, 116-136 overall.

KEY ADDITIONS: C Ann Wauters (trade, Atlanta); G Morenike Atunrase (post-draft trade, Atlanta; No. 24, Texas A&M);

KEY LOSSES: F Camille Little (trade, Atlanta); F Marie Ferdinand-Harris (free agent, Los Angeles).

STRENGTHS: Backcourt, experience. The Silver Stars are coming off their most successful season since moving from Utah in 2003. All-Star Becky Hammon (18.8 ppg, 5.0 apg) had a sensational first season in San Antonio after coming from New York in a draft-day trade. Sophia Young (16.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) was a strong complement. The Silver Stars were second in the league in 3-point shooting, led by reserve guard Shanna Crossley (41 percent). However, Crossley is out for the season after tearing the ACL in her left knee earlier in the week. Ruth Riley, who won two championships in Detroit, also provided a veteran presence in the middle. Wauters, back in the WNBA after a two-year absence, averaged 13.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg for the Liberty in 2005 while playing alongside current teammates Hammon and Vickie Johnson.

WEAKNESS: Durability. The big question for the Silver Stars as they compete with the Sparks and defending champion Mercury will be the health of their key players. Hammon has endured nagging injuries in each of the last two years, Erin Buescher missed half the season with an ACL injury, and Wauters missed time in each of her last two seasons in New York. Johnson is entering her 12th season and Riley her eighth.

SEATTLE STORM

2007: 17-17, 4th; lost 2-0 to Phoenix in first round.

COACH: Brian Agler, 1st season with team, 48-67 overall.

KEY ADDITIONS: F Sheryl Swoopes (free agent, Houston); F Yolanda Griffith (Sacramento); F Swin Cash (trade, Detroit).

KEY LOSSES: G Betty Lennox (expansion draft, Atlanta); G Iziane Castro Marques (trade, Atlanta); C Janell Burse (sitting out).

STRENGTHS: Experience, leadership. Lauren Jackson is coming off an MVP season after averaging league-bests with 23.8 ppg and 9.7 rpg. Sue Bird (10.4 ppg, 4.9 apg) was solid at the point again. The two will likely be joined in the starting lineup by veteran newcomers Swoopes, Griffith and Cash, giving the Storm a starting lineup full of past champions - including two with multiple titles (Swoopes won four with Houston, Cash two with Detroit). Seattle was second in the league in scoring, and could be a high-scoring team again if the veterans avoid injuries.

WEAKNESS: Depth. The Storm were vulnerable due to a lack of depth last year and could be again. Starters accounted for 85 percent of the team's scoring, and it will likely be more of the same. Swoopes played in only three games for Houston last year, and Griffith's production declined in her last season with the Monarchs. Cash, averaging 12.9 points in her career, had only 9.5 ppg in the last three seasons with Detroit. With Lennox (13.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Castro Marques (12.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.8 apg) already in Atlanta, losing Burse for the season doesn't help.

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Sparks open as favorites to win third championship
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Look out, WNBA. Lisa Leslie is back, and now she has Candace Parker with her.

The two have helped Los Angeles garner most of the preseason buzz, and the Sparks are the overwhelming favorites to win their third WNBA championship as the league opens its 12th season this weekend.

Leslie, a perennial All-Star and three-time Olympic gold medalist, has returned after a one-year absence following the birth of her daughter last June. The Sparks were a league-worst 10-24 without her, won the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery and selected Parker - a two-time All-American who led Tennessee to consecutive NCAA championships.

''I wasn't a part of the team last year,'' Leslie said. ''I'm all about winning. I'm excited for us to pick up where I left off.''

The Sparks won consecutive championships in 2001 and '02, and although they don't have any titles since then, they were 91-45 in the ensuing four seasons with Leslie - reaching at least 24 wins three times.

''L.A. has the hype for a reason,'' Seattle Storm star Sue Bird said. ''They have their all-time best player ever returning in Lisa Leslie. ... You have one of the best players right now playing, even though she hasn't played in a WNBA game, in Candace Parker. You can really put in anyone around them and they're supposed to be amazing. ... They're expected to do well.''

Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper has compared Parker's versatility to that of his former Lakers teammate Magic Johnson, and envisions the rookie being the key to the Sparks' new uptempo offense.

''We're going to really go full throttle because she's the one that can rebound and get our transition game going,'' Cooper said. ''Our goal is to run our way to a championship.''

The Sparks also reacquired two-time Olympian DeLisha Milton-Jones, who spent her first six seasons in Los Angeles and teamed with Leslie on the championship teams.

Los Angeles' biggest challenges in the West will come from defending champion Phoenix and veteran-laden Seattle.

The Mercury went 12-2 after the All-Star break, then swept Seattle and San Antonio in the playoffs before beating Detroit in five games to win their first championship.

Phoenix thrived under coach Paul Westhead's frenetic pace, averaging a league-best 89.0 points per game. Westhead, however, left to join the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics, replaced by assistant and protege Corey Gaines. Also, second-leading scorer Penny Taylor (17.8 ppg) is training with the Australian national team and won't rejoin the Mercury until the stretch run after the Olympics.

Gaines has more than 20 years experience with Westhead's system, having played for him at Loyola Marymount in 1986-87. He knows his biggest challenge will be making up for Taylor's lost production.

He also doesn't mind Los Angeles stealing the headlines.

''That may be a blessing in disguise,'' Gaines said. ''Everybody may be talking about L.A., we'll just sit back like we did last year. Everybody picked us last year to come in fifth or fourth. They didn't think we were going to make the playoffs. ... I guess it all counts in the end what you do.''

The Storm also have a new coach - Brian Agler - after Anne Donovan stepped down, and they improved their lineup by acquiring Swin Cash from Detroit and signing veterans Sheryl Swoopes and Yolanda Griffith to complement Bird and Lauren Jackson. Seattle can start a lineup full of past champions, including two with multiple titles - Swoopes won four with Houston, Cash two with Detroit.

The Shock, who won titles in 2003 and '06, appear to be the favorites in the tighter Eastern Conference. All-Star game MVP Cheryl Ford and Deanna Nolan are the faces of the franchise now, along with veteran star Katie Smith.

''We want to win the East and get to the finals,'' Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said. ''That's our goal every year, and we've done it twice in a row and three of the last five. We're certainly capable of doing it again.''

Chicago had a nine-win improvement after setting the WNBA record with 29 losses in its inaugural season the year before. The Sky have a new coach again - former assistant Steven Key - their third head coach in three years. However, after adding 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Chicago is poised to push for a playoff run.

''I think you have to watch every team,'' New York coach Pat Coyle said. ''There's so much parity in this league now, everybody's gotten better. There aren't any cupcakes anymore, you can get beat every night.''

The Liberty are also on the upswing two years after enduring the worst season in franchise history. New York bounced back last year, earned the East's fourth and final playoff berth and nearly beat Detroit in the first round.

''The expectation for this organization every year is to win a championship,'' Coyle said. ''Who knows what is going to happen, but we want to be better than we were a year ago.''

Indiana, another team with a new coach after former assistant Lin Dunn was promoted to replace Brian Winters, could also be tough. It will depend on the health of Tamika Catchings - perennially the team's leader in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. Catchings is still recovering from an Achilles' tendon injury sustained in Game 3 of the conference finals against Detroit, and will miss the early part of the season.

Two-time All-Star and Indiana native Katie Douglas, who averaged 17.0 points and 4.6 rebounds last year for Connecticut, was acquired to bolster the Fever's offense, but will be the focal point at the start.

The league is back up to 14 teams with the expansion Atlanta Dream, the second new team in three years, joining the Eastern Conference one season after the Charlotte Sting folded.

A rule change for this season allows a player to inbound the ball into the backcourt from the midcourt line or frontcourt during the final minute of the fourth quarter and the final minute of any overtime period. Also, officials will be required to use video review after flagrant fouls that result in ejections, and other player altercations.

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