Delle Donne's absence looms large for Sky-Sparks series

LOS ANGELES (AP) The semifinal playoff series between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Chicago Sky could hang on the recovery of Elena Delle Donne's thumb.

Delle Donne had surgery recently and coach Pokey Chatman said she won't play in Game 1 of the best-of-five series that begins Wednesday at Long Beach State and is doubtful for Game 2.

Chicago guard Allie Quigley is impressed with how the Sky have played without the star forward.

''I just think we knew when she went down that we were all going to have to step up,'' Quigley said. ''Everyone was ready. We're not going to be like the team where, `Oh, they're not that good without Elena.' Everyone took it personal and stepped up big.''

The second-seeded Sparks, who had a double bye and haven't played in 12 days, are planning for all scenarios, with or without Delle Donne. Chicago is planning to play without her.

The Sparks, who had the second-best record in the league at 26-8, have shortened practices and structured them more like games in preparation for the playoffs.

''I also think there's an element of two things happening,'' Sparks coach Brian Agler said. ''I think we sat around for 5 1/2 weeks and everyone told us how good we are, and I think we softened up. That's No. 1. No. 2, now it's playoff time. It's easier to get people's attention. I can't tell you the outcome of the games, but I think we'll be more engaged and focused.''

Delle Donne has captured the attention of the WNBA and its fans. And in her absence, her teammates are showing they can become a more guard-oriented team and be successful at it.

''Credit the players for stepping up individually and collectively,'' Chatman said. ''Unfortunately, in the past we've had to do that. Elena has suffered with some injuries and the back injury. There's not this collective sigh or panic on the players' part.

''Don't misunderstand me, it's an arduous task ... but also, it's the beauty of sports that someone goes down and someone steps up. Some veteran players like Cappie Pondexter, Courtney Vandersloot and Tamera Young, they've stepped up and changed the way we played in terms of our pace.''

The fourth-seeded Sky have played well without Delle Donne, going 4-2 with her out of the lineup.

Chicago must play the Sparks with all of their All-Stars, like Candace Parker and WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike. Ogwumike led the team in scoring with 19.7 points per game.

The Sparks have won all three meetings against Chicago this season, all by double digits.

While the Sparks were waiting through byes, they scrimmaged and on Tuesday, visited with the homeless in nearby Venice and passed out blankets and shoes.

They were back scrimmaging on Tuesday.

''They're playing great basketball, and they've been without (Delle Donne),'' Parker said. ''We've got to prepare for them. They have so many different weapons.''

Delle Donne's absence, and her regular-season scoring average of 21.5 points per game, is glaring for Chicago, which beat Atlanta to advance.

''We prepare like she's never coming back because everything else would be Merry Christmas to us,'' Chatman said. ''You have to because you don't want to put undue pressure on her to come back too soon if she's not ready.''

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