Silver Stars-Shock Preview
The San Antonio Silver Stars were the only team to defeat the WNBA champions in the postseason last year, but that doesn't mean they expect to open 2012 as one of the Western Conference favorites.
New Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenburg also has realistic expectations after the Shock finished with the league's worst record in each of the last two seasons.
San Antonio goes for its seventh consecutive victory in this series when it visits Tulsa on Saturday night.
After finishing fourth in the conference last season at 18-16, the Silver Stars pushed Minnesota to a deciding third game in the West semifinals before falling in that round for a third consecutive year.
San Antonio last won a playoff series in 2008 when it was swept in the WNBA finals by the Detroit Shock, who would move to Tulsa prior to the 2010 season.
"I'm not going to sit there and say we're going to go through and just beat everybody and walk into the WNBA finals," said point guard Becky Hammon, who led the Silver Stars with 15.9 points per game and a career-best 5.8 assists last season. "... What I can say is we're going to fight and we're going to get better every week."
While Hammon and forward Sophia Young are two of the best in the league at their positions, the Silver Stars have plenty of room for improvement. Five of their players on the opening night roster will have two years or fewer of WNBA experience, including fifth overall pick Shenise Johnson, a guard out of Miami.
"We're going to take our learning lumps I think early, but hopefully we can get on the same page as fast as possible," Hammon said. "We should be playing really solid basketball at the end of the year."
The Shock, who finished 3-31 last season and are 9-59 since relocating, can't make that claim.
"We just want to win a few games," said Kloppenburg, who takes over for interim coach Teresa Edwards after spending the last four seasons as an assistant with the Indiana Fever.
If that's going to happen, the Shock will have to do so without last year's leading scorer and rebounder Tiffany Jones (former Jackson), who will sit out this season as she expects her first child.
Tulsa will also be without second-year Australian center Liz Cambage until after the London Olympics.
Without those two, fourth overall pick Glory Johnson out of Tennessee could make an even bigger impact down low for the Shock.
Kloppenburg is also expecting big production from rookie guard Riquna Williams, Shenise Johnson's former teammate with the Hurricanes.
"She kind of reminds me a little bit of Cappie (Pondexter) the way she can just elevate from the 3-point and shoot it and can get to the rim," he said. "... (Riquna has) had an impact on our team so far. So we're excited about our rookies and what they can bring to the team this year."
The Shock also like the addition of veteran point guard Temeka Johnson, who was acquired from Phoenix for center Andrea Riley.
The Silver Stars' offseason acquisition of center Tangela Smith, seventh in WNBA history with 2,318 rebounds, should help them after they were outrebounded by a league-worst 5.7 boards per game in 2011.
San Antonio is undefeated in this series since a 75-70 home loss July 16, 2010.