Fever-Sky Preview

(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 going into Friday night's opener against the visiting Indiana Fever.

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,'' 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). 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 season after averaging 8.8 points and 5.6 assists last year. Returning guard Tamera Young averaged 18.1 minutes and 5.6 points.

The Sky won the Eastern Conference with a 24-10 record, their best in eight seasons. They reached the playoffs for the first time but were swept by Indiana in the first round.

The Fever have beaten the Sky in 11 of the last 12 meetings.

Lin Dunn has high expectations for Indiana this season. The seventh-year coach believes the Fever can win another WNBA title before she retires at the end of the season.

It all comes down to two things: Defense and rebounding.

''Night in and night out, the thing that can remain consistent is your defense and your rebounding,'' Dunn said. ''If you continue to, night in and night out, consistently be a good to great defensive and rebounding team, you always have a chance to win. I believe that's the foundation of a championship team.''

The Fever (16-18) were swept by Atlanta in the East finals last year after winning the franchise's first championship in 2012. Dunn doesn't think the Fever were all that far off from making a return to the finals last season.

''Last year, we could have very easily been in the finals against had we not gotten so injured,'' Dunn said. ''We got to the final four with no depth. I feel confident that this year, if we can stay healthy, there's no reason why we can't challenge for a championship.''

At one point last year, the Fever had six players benched due to injuries, including Katie Douglas with a back injury and Jessica Davenport, who had season-ending surgery for a left tibia stress fracture.

Dunn isn't the only one talking about retirement. Even Tamika Catchings is giving retirement consideration. The 2012 WNBA MVP is in her 14th season with the Fever.

Dunn spent the offseason making moves to have the personnel to grab big rebounds. The Fever selected 6-foot-3 Natasha Howard in the draft and acquired 6-4 forward Lynetta Kizer in a trade with Phoenix. Both will play alongside Erlana Larkins, who signed a multiyear deal last month. Larkins was No. 8 in the league with 7.8 rebounds per game last season.

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