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Chicago hopes to build on last year’s WNBA Finals appearance

FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2014, file photo, Chicago Sky forward Elena Delle Donne, right, goes to the basket past Phoenix Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner (24), during the second half of Game 3 of the WNBA Finals in Chicago. The third-year star is the key to Chicago's success this season. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)

A trip to the WNBA Finals last season has left Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky hungry for more.

The Sky had never won a playoff series before last year when they advanced to the finals. The Sky managed to get into the postseason as the four seed with a 15-19 record. Chicago got healthy at the right time to make their run.

“We were able to taste that championship and obviously we fell short, but we learned a lot from last season and hopefully that can get us a lot further this year,” Delle Donne said.

The third-year star is the key to Chicago’s success. She had a disappointing season last year that was plagued by injuries. First there was a flare-up of her Lyme Disease that forced her to miss nearly half the season. Then a back issue hampered her during the playoffs.

“I’m 100 percent right now,” Delle Donne said after the Sky played two exhibition games in Connecticut. “It’s never gone, but definitely feel like it’s controlled. Hopefully it will continue all season to be controlled.”

The Sky didn’t stand pat in the offseason, acquiring Chicago native Cappie Pondexter from the New York Liberty for Epiphanny Prince. Pondexter won two titles with Phoenix and was the MVP of the finals in 2009.

“We had a great season last year, this year it’s a different squad,” Delle Donne said. “There’s some big names that aren’t in the locker room. The addition of Cappie puts a target on our back. I welcome that, it means we put together a few good seasons now. You don’t want to be the underdog for life.”

Pondexter was thrilled for the chance to return home.

“It’s a good atmosphere my teammates are amazing, we know what direction we want to go in,” Pondexter said. “We have something special with the pieces which are already in place.”

One piece that isn’t there for the Sky right now is center Sylvia Fowles. The All-Star asked to be traded in the offseason, but the team hasn’t been able to meet her demands.

“We focus on who is here and not worry about who isn’t,” coach and general manager Pokey Chatman said.

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Other Eastern Conference Tidbits:

NEW/OLD FACES

Stephanie White took over as the new coach of the Indiana Fever when Lin Dunn retired after last year. The Indiana native will try and guide the team to an 11th straight playoff appearance.

“I’ve definitely come full circle,” White said. “I felt that way when we won the championship. I was part of the first team and part of the first championship. I’m the first coach to play for that franchise, it’s really pretty unbelievable.”

While White will get her first chance to lead the team, Bill Laimbeer returned to New York for a second stint after briefly getting let go by the Liberty in October.

He’s seen the roster almost completely overhauled since he took over three years ago. Now this year he’s got to help the team avoid being distracted by the hiring of Isiah Thomas as president and potential owner.

SHORT-HANDED

The season hasn’t started and the Connecticut Sun are already decimated by injuries. Reigning rookie of the year Chiney Ogwumike is sidelined indefinitely after having microfracture surgery on her knee. Allison Hightower had knee surgery also and is out. The Sun cut forward Kelsey Griffin after she underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery on her left hip last Friday. Connecticut hopes to re-sign her next year.

The good news for the Sun is that guard Chelsea Gray, who missed her rookie year with a knee injury, is finally healthy.

MISSING TIME

Prince (Russia), Atlanta’s Celine Dumerc (France), Indiana’s Shavonte Zellous (Croatia) and Chicago’s Allie Quigley (Hungary) are all playing in the Eurobasket tournament this month that runs from June 11-28. Quigley at least will play the opening two games for the Sky before heading overseas. The teams and the league have the option to fine the players for the missed games.

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