Fever-Silver Stars Preview
The question now for the Indiana Fever is whether they can repeat as champs.
The Fever open the regular season Friday at San Antonio, and Indiana is already starting the year short-handed.
Indiana returns 10 players from a team that went 22-12, earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and kept beating opponents until hoisting the championship trophy. That alone should make them one of this year's favorites, led by seven-time All-Star Tamika Catchings.
The Fever's injury list, however, is a concern to start 2013.
Guard Erin Phillips, who started nine of the 10 playoff games last season, is expected to miss four to six week with a torn meniscus in her right knee. Center Jessica Davenport will be out six to eight weeks with a stress fracture in her left leg. Guard Jeanette Pohlen isn't expected to return until August after she tore an ACL sustained during last year's finals.
The good news is that all three could be back for the playoffs. And, of course, the Fever has higher aspirations.
"Every year my goal is to continue to get better and continue to put our team in a better situation where we can get closer to having a dynasty here and winning more championships," Catchings said. "Why not?''
The San Antonio Silver Stars, meanwhile, had a quiet offseason, which seems appropriate for a non-descript franchise that has quietly made six straight playoff appearances.
Like the San Antonio Spurs, their NBA brethren, the Silver Stars are led by a defensive-minded coach in Dan Hughes who has established a selfless and straightforward identity for his team.
The Silver Stars didn't draft high enough to pick up any of the WNBA's heralded rookie trio of Brittney Griner (Phoenix), Elena Delle Donne (Chicago) and Skylar Diggins (Tulsa). And they didn't trade for or sign a major star.
In fact, the biggest news of the offseason was losing all-star forward Sophia Young for the season to an ACL tear. San Antonio will need to rely even more heavily on its collective identity without Young.
The three-time All-Star forward averaged team highs of 16.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 32 minutes last season. She was also the team's primary stopper, earning second-team honors on the WNBA's All-Defensive squad.
The Silver Stars are not expecting one player to make up for all that production.
"We are going to have to pick up and just try to do it collectively, because you don't replace Sophia,'' All-Star guard Becky Hammon said. "You just try to pick up the slack in every little area."
The Silver Stars received more bad news Saturday, as Hammon broke her right middle finger during practice. The team said it was too early to know how many games, if any, she will miss.
The one thing San Antonio can count on is familiarity.
The Silver Stars did not make many changes to a roster that went 21-13 and finished third in the West last season before being swept in the conference semifinals by Los Angeles.
"I definitely think that consistency is going to help us,'' Silver Stars point guard Danielle Robinson said. "Bringing back the majority of our roster is exciting because we know how to play with each other. We know how to feed off each other's energy, so I'm definitely looking forward to having that core group back."
The team will also lean more heavily on its young core - Robinson, Danielle Adams, Jayne Appel and Shenise Johnson. All four have played in the league four years or less.
The Silver Stars have lost five of the last seven meetings.