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Sky face difficulties coming off winning season

AP - Sports

CHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Sky had their first winning season in 2013. They may struggle to match it with an unsettled lineup that is temporarily without their top defensive player.

Sylvia Fowles, a 2013 All-WNBA first team forward/center who averaged 11.5 rebounds, is recovering from arthroscopic hip surgery and may not return until next month.

''She hasn't gotten on the court, she's doing some strengthening exercises,'' Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. ''The big thing with Sylvia is making sure she doesn't try to go too fast. . (But) I think she should be back in the month of June.''

Two other 2013 starters are out - one permanently.

Personal reasons kept starting guard Epiphanny Prince (15.0 points) out of camp, but she's expected to report within the next two weeks. Forward Swin Cash, also a regular last season, was traded to Atlanta.

Holes in the lineup likely mean a heavier load for forward Elena Delle Donne, the 2013 WNBA rookie of the year and fourth-leading scorer (18.1 points). But that doesn't necessarily mean more scoring.

''Not necessarily 25 points a game, but I will take that,'' Chatman said. ''I think more of a leadership role by Elena is what I'd expect.''

Also back is starting point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who enters her fourth WNBA season. Returning guard Tamera Young averaged 18.1 minutes and 5.6 points per game.

The Sky won the Eastern Conference with a 24-10 record, their best record in eight seasons. They reached the playoffs for the first time but were swept by Indiana in the first round. Here are five things to know about this year's team:

WAITING FOR FOWLES: The Sky are counting on rookie center Markeisha Gatling (NC State) and free agent Sasha Goodlett with Fowles out. ''We also lost our backup player - Carolyn Swords - and we went from two solid posts to zero,'' Chatman said. ''You don't replace an All-Star, gold medal-winning Sylvia Fowles, but it really is nice to have two big bodies that can create solid screens and get some boards.''

TOUGHER DELLE DONNE: Instead of playing overseas, Delle Donne spent much of the offseason in Chicago. ''She averaged 18 points a game, and anything short of that, people may not think it's a success,'' Chatman said. ''But I want her to be a better rebounder, I need her to be a better defender. Those are some of the things we're emphasizing.''

MOST IMPROVED: Vandersloot added 18 pounds of muscle prior to the 2013 season. It paid off as she averaged 8.8 points and 5.6 assists last year and played her best basketball in a nine-game stretch plagued by injuries to teammates. She averaged 11.9 points and 7.1 assists to help the Sky to an 8-1 record.

CAN'T BEAT INDIANA: The Fever have beaten the Sky in 11 of the last 12 meetings, including a two-game sweep in a 2013 first-round playoff series. The teams meet in Friday's season opener at Allstate Arena.

TOPS AT THE LINE: The Sky led the WNBA in free throws made and attempted (609-of-748), were second in percentage (.814) and had the top percentage shooter in Delle Donne (92.9 percent).

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