Updated at: 09/19/2013 1:06 PM
By DOUG FEINBERG
Elena Delle Donne has already led Chicago to its first postseason berth in franchise history.
Now the 6-foot-5 budding young star will try and help the Eastern Conference’s top team keep the run going in the playoffs. Delle Donne, the overwhelming favorite to win rookie of the year, said she and her teammates are looking forward to the challenge
"It’s going to be a great experience," she said. "We’re all very excited about it, we’re all going in it for the first time."
Chicago will have a tough test in the opening round, facing defending WNBA champion Indiana. The Fever, beset by injuries all season, got back star Katie Douglas last week. She sat out 30 games with a bulging disc in her back.
Here’s a look at five other intriguing story lines for the WNBA playoffs that begin Thursday:
ON A MISSION: Ever since losing to Indiana in the WNBA finals last season, Maya Moore and her Minnesota Lynx teammates have been hungry to get back there. Minnesota took the first step toward winning its second title in three seasons by clinching home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Lynx are 15-2 at the Target Center this season. "Home court is huge," Moore said. "Our fans are awesome and they really make it hard for teams to come in and beat us." Minnesota will open against Seattle, a team the Lynx swept during the regular season.
OVERACHEIVERS: Mike Thibault was brought to Washington with hopes of turning around a struggling franchise. It only took the veteran coach one season to start the rebuilding process as the Mystics won 17 games _ more than the previous two years combined. The Mystics, who were 11-57 the previous two seasons combined, will face Atlanta in the opening round in a rematch of the 2010 series. The Dream, an enigma all season, are led by the league’s top scorer in Angel McCoughtry (22.0 points) and are always a tough playoff out.
CALLING IT A CAREER: Tina Thompson hopes to have one last hurrah as her WNBA career comes to a close. The four-time WNBA champion will be playing in her final playoffs as Seattle faces Minnesota. Thompson, who is the only player left from the inaugural WNBA class, will finish her career as the league’s all-time leading scorer (7,488) and second leading rebounder (3,070). She averaged 14.1 points and 5.8 rebounds to help injury-plagued Seattle make a surprising run to the playoffs without injured stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. "I want to go 12 more games," she said, referring to the postseason.
SECOND CHANCE : The Phoenix Mercury had high expectations with No. 1 pick Brittney Griner joining a talented group led by Diana Taurasi. But the team struggled under coach Corey Gaines, who was fired in early August. The coaching change turned things around and the Mercury flourished under interim coach Russ Pennell, closing the season with nine wins in their final 13 games. "We’re playing defense better. We’re stopping teams," Griner said. "We’re getting stops. We’re running out. That’s big with coach Pennell."
MISSING PIECE: Candace Parker has pretty much done it all in her basketball career. From NCAA championships, to Olympic gold medals and league MVPs, she has a stellar resume. Yet one thing is missing, a WNBA title. Parker hopes to change that when the Sparks open up the playoffs against Phoenix. The 27-year-old, who won MVP honors of the league’s All-Star game this past July, has a strong group around her led by Kristi Toliver and Nneka Ogwumike.
AP Freelancers Mike Cook in Minneapolis and Curtis Zupke in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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