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Sky-Mystics Preview

AP - Sports

The Chicago Sky and Washington Mystics finished in the bottom two spots of the Eastern Conference last season, combining to lose their final nine contests.

Both teams, though, have heightened expectations heading into 2012, and they'll tip off their seasons Saturday night in the nation's capital.

Washington lost its final four games and finished last in the East at 6-28 in 2011, a disappointing season after reaching the conference finals the previous year. Monique Currie averaged career highs of 14.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 2010, but a torn ACL kept her out of all but four games last season, leaving a huge hole the Mystics struggled to fill.

Crystal Langhorne did her best, averaging 18.2 points and 7.6 boards, and was rewarded with a four-year contract in the offseason. Washington also signed Michelle Snow and Dominique Canty from Chicago.

Matee Ajavon had a breakout season, averaging 14.7 points, though she sat out the team's final preseason game with a sore right knee and is questionable for the opener.

"We're excited about opening the season. We've put in a lot of hard work," coach Trudi Lacey said. "We feel we're ready mentally and physically to play. We're going to get after it and hopefully get a win."

Washington beat the Sky 73-68 in a preseason matchup May 10, playing strong in the paint despite Chicago holding a size advantage.

"We're not going to change our philosophy," Lacey said. "We want to play inside-out so we can go right at them."

The Sky also are happy to begin anew after dropping their final five games to finish 14-20 last season. They've yet to qualify for the playoffs in their five-year existence - a drought they hope to end after acquiring veterans Swin Cash and Ruth Riley to team with All-Stars Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince.

Cash and Riley led the then-Detroit Shock to a WNBA title in 2003, with Riley being named finals MVP. Riley added a championship with San Antonio in 2006, and Cash won a title with Seattle in 2010.

Chicago also signed Ticha Penicheiro and Le'coe Willingham, both of whom also have won championships.

"Just (have) to be on the same page," Fowles said of the new roster still trying to mesh. "We have had our spurts, we've been up and down (with) the inconsistent things that we did. If we can just all click together in the next few weeks, that would be great. We will just go from there."

Fowles averaged 20.0 points last season to rank third in the league and was second in rebounding at 10.2 per game. She also averaged a league-best 2.0 blocks and was named the WNBA defensive player of the year.

General manager and coach Pokey Chatman worked hard to bring in talent around an already solid core of Fowles, Prince and point guard Courtney Vandersloot, though the Sky aren't concerned with living up to expectations.

"We honestly haven't talked about it," Riley said. "We just come to work and realize we've got to take it one day at a time. We haven't earned anything yet. Our mentality is to get better and obviously get to the playoffs to see what can happen from there."

Chicago has won six straight meetings with Washington, including a four-game sweep in 2011.

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