Second half of WNBA season set to get under way

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) With All-Star weekend finished, the WNBA turns its attention to the second half of the season.

The sprint to the playoffs and the WNBA championship will most likely hinge on which team can stay the healthiest. Minnesota is leading the Western Conference right now, but the Lynx are without two of their three All-Stars as Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus are sidelined with injuries.

Whalen, who hurt her eye last week, should be back soon. Augustus is out until mid-August while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.

''I like where we are and I like our mindset, how we've handled the adversity,'' said Maya Moore, who was the MVP of the league's All-Star contest. ''We'll keep pushing through and get better. We'd love to have everyone healthy. For now, we'll go with what we got and I like what we have.''

Los Angeles is sitting in last in the conference, but the Sparks are going to get a big boost this week with the return of Candace Parker. The two-time league MVP sat out the first half of the season to rest her body. She returns to a team that is only 1 1/2 games out of the playoffs.

''That definitely has helped us knowing that we aren't out of it,'' Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike said. ''When you look at our record, it doesn't reflect what you watch when you come to one of our games. We don't look like a team that's losing. We're not giving in.''

While the West is quite spread out, the East is bunched - as usual. New York enters the second half of the season in first, but all six teams are within five games of the Liberty.

''If you think about it, the previous years, for the `W', especially for the East, teams are always clustered,'' Indiana's Tamika Catchings said. ''You can go from being fourth to first to sixth.''

Finishing in first is no guarantee in the East to make the WNBA Finals. Last season, Chicago advanced as the No. 4 seed. The Fever were the last team to make it to the championship as the top seed in the East in 2009.

''That's the cool thing about our league is you never know,'' Catchings said.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Catchings became the all-time leading scorer in All-Star Game history Saturday, passing Lisa Leslie's mark. Catchings has 108 points in her All-Star career, four more than Leslie.

EXPANSION: WNBA President Laurel J. Richie said in her state of the league address Saturday that an expansion committee would be formed after the season. The league, in its 19th season, currently has 12 teams - down from the high of 16 in the early 2000s. The WNBA last added a team in 2008 when the Atlanta Dream joined.

While it's still way too early to tell what potential places could get teams, Richie said there was a lot of interest from different areas of the country. Last year, before the Los Angeles Sparks were bought by Magic Johnson's group, there was talk of the team moving to the Bay Area. The WNBA President said then that there was interest from the Golden State Warriors ownership.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Sparks at Lynx. Parker makes her season debut with Los Angeles after sitting out the first half of the season to rest. The Sparks (3-13) sit in last place in the Western Conference.

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