WNBA curtain rises on new cast


Lauren Jackson's already lighting it up in Seattle. Jackie Stiles is already struggling in Portland.

The New York Liberty will be back. The Houston Comets won't be. The Miller twins, Coco and Kelly, are dealing with being apart for the first time. Cynthia Cooper is dealing with coaching for the first time.

ESPN gets more games. Lifetime gets no games.

The WNBA will open its fifth season today with a rematch of last season's Western Conference finals between Houston and the Los Angeles Sparks and, after that, things actually might get interesting.

The Sparks have pretty much the same lineup as last year. The Comets - who lost Cooper to retirement and Sheryl Swoopes to an anterior cruciate ligament tear - will hardly resemble the team that has won all four league titles.

"I don't think Houston is going to be chopped liver," Miami Sol coach Ron Rothstein said.

So nobody's counting anybody out yet. That's fair. But a strong draft pool and an influx of Australians, including Jackson, have beefed up the league's depth. And there are five new coaches - Tom Maher (Washington Mystics), Cooper (Phoenix Mercury), Anne Donovan (Charlotte Sting), Greg Williams (Detroit Shock) and Nell Fortner (Indiana Fever) - to stir everything up.

Watch for the Liberty in the East and the Sparks in the West. And the Liberty beat the Sparks twice in exhibition play, even while Liberty coach Richie Adubato was toying with his lineup.

The Liberty is deeper than last year, with Rebecca Lobo back from a twice-torn anterior cruciate ligament and the acquisition of Washington Mystics starting point guard, Andrea Nagy. Teresa Weatherspoon will still start, but look for Nagy to play often.

The Sparks beat Houston three times last season, but they couldn't beat a psyched-up, soon-to-be-retiring Cooper in the playoffs. The cast of regulars, including center Lisa Leslie, is back for L.A.

Houston still has Brazilian star Janeth Arcain, who is versatile enough to be able to score and run the point, and Tina Thompson.

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