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The fans expect it.

The media expects it.

Even GMs around the league expect it.

With a healthy returning roster and the addition of No. 1 draft pick Brittney Griner, the Mercury are the odds-on-favorites to win the WNBA championship this season.

"We're not picked to win. L.A.'s picked to win," head coach Corey Gaines corrected reporters after practice Friday. "We're picked second. I saw it this morning."

What Gaines saw was analyst LaChina Robinson say on NBA TV, "I think the crown goes back to the West and I am going to say the L.A. Sparks. I think they go to the top."

O.K., that's one person's opinion.

The opinion, however, shared by most is the one that predicts the Mercury will win their third championship, to go along with titles won in 2007 and 2009.

That was the consensus this week among executives in the annual WNBA.com GM surve, which made the Mercury the top choice to be the final team left standing at the end of the season, with 33.3% of the votes. Los Angeles, Indiana and New York tied for second, with 16.7% of the votes.

"We don't count that one," said Gaines, entering his sixth season as head coach. "We count LaChina."

Gaines' squad will attempt to disprove Robinson's prediction starting Monday, when they host the Chicago Sky in the regular season opener at 2 p.m. at US Airways Center.

The Mercury opened training camp May 6. Stars Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner missed the first week, but have been on the floor together the last two weeks, which is a change from years past when overseas commitments kept those players from joining the Mercury until right before the start of the season.

"(Our) execution should be a little bit better," Gaines said, though Taylor is questionable for game one as the team takes a cautious approach with her one year removed from tearing the ACL in her left knee.

"Usually it takes two or three days, we're here together; we just go out there and we just play. It's better to be this way," Gaines continued. "Defense will be better because we're more organized. I want to get to a point where we play against ourselves, not another team; where it's how we do, not how the other team does."

Again, the pieces are in place.

The current roster includes players who own eight championship rings and have played in a combined 117 playoff games.

"Our main goal is to focus on what we do and how we're going to make ourselves better as a team and throughout the course of the season," Dupree said. "Of course, everybody is expecting us to win a championship, but you know no pressure."

Craig Grialou, Reporter

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