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Sparks Emphasizing Fast Start to Season

Times Staff Writer

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Even though the WNBA has lengthened its regular season, 34 games do not offer a lot of time.

That is especially true in the Western Conference, where there is normally little breathing room between the four teams that qualify for the playoffs. That space figures to be squeezed even more in 2003 because six of the seven West teams believe they have a good chance at playing beyond Aug. 25, when the regular season ends.

That’s why Spark Coach Michael Cooper is a believer in fast starts. He sees a direct correlation between his team starting 9-0 in 2001 and 9-1 in 2002 and winning titles both years.

He’s looking for another fast start when the Sparks play their 2003 season opener here today against the Connecticut Sun.

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“Those starts the last two years have been critical,” Cooper said after Friday’s final preseason practice. “A good start gets everyone on an upbeat note, gets the team headed in the right direction. And it’s especially important this year, with our first four games on the road.”

The players feel the same way.

“We always try to emphasize how we start the season,” DeLisha Milton said. “There is a saying that ‘it’s not how you start but how you finish,’ and that’s true -- if you have a loser’s mentality. But we’re winners, and we think that how you start the season is indicative of how you will play the season. So we want to come out of the gate strong.”

The Sun franchise, which was based in Orlando, Fla., last season, is also looking for a good start. Connecticut’s success or failure at the box office could have a deep impact on the development of the WNBA. Not only is this the first professional sports franchise owned by an American Indian nation, in this case the Mohegan Tribe, it is the first WNBA franchise not directly tied to an NBA team or city.

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The state has long been coveted by the WNBA for a franchise because of the support for and success of the University of Connecticut’s women’s team. But fans here won’t come to watch a bad team -- not for long anyway. And if the Sun struggles as a franchise, there could be a chilling effect on potential investors.


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