Chicago Sky creeps toward WNBA breakthrough

Sylvia Fowles is watching what's happening in Minnesota: a Lynx team that hadn't been to the playoffs for six years finally breaking through to the postseason.

The Chicago Sky have been in the WNBA for five years, and the team is still awaiting its first playoff appearance.

The Sky hopes to get hot in the final three weeks of the season and slide into the Eastern Conference playoffs. As of Monday, Chicago is one game behind fourth-place Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the East, and the Sky's next five games are against Eastern Conference opponents, which makes this the most telling stretch of the season.

"People talk about us being an expansion team, but we expanded five years ago," said Fowles, the Sky's standout center. "We are very hungry [to make the playoffs], to do something we haven't done since I've been here."

Fowles, the former LSU All-American who came to Chicago in the 2008 WNBA draft, is literally the centerpiece of the Sky's franchise.

One of the league's tallest players at 6-foot-6, Fowles is having an MVP-level season, averaging 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. She's coming off an 25-point, 11-rebound effort against Washington on Saturday.

"I feel this is, by far, my best year. The first two years, I ended up getting hurt. Last year, I felt like it was the rise of me playing to my potential," Fowles said. "I feel like there's nowhere to go but up."

Fowles added, "I'm happy with the direction we are headed, but I'm not happy about where we are in the standings. We need to keep everybody involved. We are not about just one player. I think people have been doing a great job playing their roles."

In just her third pro season, Fowles is a veteran surrounded by young talent, particularly in the backcourt. Chicago starts a rookie point guard in Courtney Vandersloot. Shooting guard Epiphanny Prince is in her second season.

"I think we've finally clicked," Fowles said. "I think we want to prove that we can compete with any level in the WNBA. We want to get out name out there."

A name that the Sky want associated with playoff-level basketball.

With or without you?

Will good health influence the Western Conference race?

Candace Parker came back into the Los Angeles Sparks' lineup last week, hoping to give her team the help it needs to make what will be a difficult run to the WNBA playoffs. Los Angeles is 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. And the Sparks are 2-2 since Parker returned.

But Parker isn't the only one making a comeback.

The Seattle Storm happily welcomed star center Lauren Jackson back into the lineup. Jackson missed 20 games with a hip injury.

Jackson returned on Saturday for the Storm's game against New York, scoring 20 points in 21 minutes. Seattle seems to be a good shape for a playoff spot, but the Storm is 1.5 games behind Phoenix for the No. 2 spot in the West, which would have given the Storm a home-court advantage in the first round. Considering that Seattle is 10-2 at home this season, it's no small thing.

Phoenix, meanwhile, pulled out a key 87-81 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars on Saturday night without star Diana Taurasi on the floor.

Taurasi was a late scratch from the game with back spasms. Phoenix hosts New York on Tuesday night, but it's unclear whether Taurasi will be good to go.

Reaching a record

The Tulsa Shock now owns the longest losing streak in WNBA history, falling for the 18th straight time in a 73-67 loss to Los Angeles on Sunday night. The record-setting loss was tougher to swallow still because the Shock had a 15-point second-half lead before the Sparks stormed back behind 16 points from Parker.

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