Let the Games Begin
By Aman Ali, WNBA.com

With the 16th year of WNBA basketball tipping off over the weekend, the defending champion Minnesota Lynx go into the season as a favorite to win it all again.

But looking at training camp reports, preseason and opening weekend matchups, finding out which team is going to put up a fight against Minnesota this year is where it gets interesting. Minnesota may be a front-runner as of late-May, but that could change in the snap of a finger.

2012 WNBA.com POWER RANKINGS: 5/21

TEAM (last year) W / L NOTES
1
Minnesota (1)
1-0 It's a no-brainer. Coming off a title win last year, just about everyone agrees this season's championship is Minnesota's to lose. But don't expect their reign at number one to be an easy one this season. Every team in the league is probably studying the Lynx and looking for every possible weakness to exploit. But so far, so good, as the Lynx beat the Mercury over the weekend by 22 points.
Upcoming Games: 5/22 @ New York, 5/24 vs. Los Angeles
2
Atlanta (5)
0-1 They've made it to the Finals two years in a row and nobody is hungrier to get their shot at winning it all than the Dream. Star scorer Angel McCoughtry returns for what will probably be another explosive year for her. The core of the team's roster from last year remains intact. They know what it takes to compete with the Lynx, so expect them to come knocking on Minnesota's door for revenge come playoffs time. Atlanta lost to Indiana by a narrow margin in their season opener, but considering the Fever are also a serious championship contender, the Dream need not worry.
Upcoming Games: 5/25 vs New York, 5/27 vs Indiana
3
Connecticut (4)
2-0 Connecticut came out of the gates swinging this season, beating New York twice over the weekend. Beating a playoff-caliber team back-to-back is a great way to start the season, but it remains to be seen how steady Connecticut can keep this momentum going. They may have had one of the best records in the league last year at 21-13, but the team was only 6-11 on the road. The Sun have a strong core in place carrying over from last season, but they didn't make any explosive changes to boost their roster like some other teams at their level did this season. They may have given the Lynx a run for their money last season, but doing so this year might be even tougher.
Upcoming Games: 5/25 vs San Antonio
4
Indiana (2)
1-0 Indiana was one game away from reaching the 2011 Finals before losing to Atlanta, so falling tantalizingly close to victory will be a good motivator for the Fever this season. Last year's MVP Tamika Catchings lagged towards the end of last season because of injuries, but she's in good shape now to keep the team a worthy contender this season. The Fever got revenge on the Dream by beating them in their season opener over the weekend, so the team got off to a good start.
Upcoming Games: 5/25 @ Chicago, 5/27 @ Atlanta
5
Los Angeles (9)
1-0 All eyes will be on No. 1 overall draft pick Nneka Ogwumike and what she will be able to do to help the Sparks rebound from their 15-19 record in 2011. She's already turning heads in preseason play and is a likely favorite for being crowned Rookie of the Year. Superstar Candace Parker was sidelined for most of last season because of injuries, but she's in good shape to get back to her explosive roots. Parker and Ogwumike both playing at the top of their games will turn the Sparks into a lethal force this season. The team played like superstars in an upset win against the Storm in Seattle this past weekend, so expect the Sparks to fly in the coming days if they can keep this energy going.
Upcoming Games:5/22 vs Seattle, 5/27 vs Tulsa
6
Seattle (3)
0-1 The team knows what it takes to win a championship after doing so in 2010, but the Storm boldly traded some of their star veterans in exchange for some youthful prospects (and salary cap flexibility). But the new players the Storm picked up were dominating in preseason play, so the team has true potential to be playoff warriors this season - especially when Lauren Jackson comes back to the team post-Olympics. Getting their team chemistry locked down is what the Storm needs to work on after the Sparks went on a 30-10 run in the season opener to beat them in come-from-behind fashion.
Upcoming Games:5/22 @ Los Angeles, 5/27 @ Minnesota
7
Phoenix (6)
0-1 Phoenix is known for going on intense scoring frenzies night after night and don't expect that to change this season. The Mercury were the top scoring team in the league last year and are a likely favorite to do that again. But the team needs to work on their defensive game and build upon being the worst in the league last year in points allowed. Getting clobbered by the Lynx over the weekend by 22 points (although Diana Taurasi didn't play and Penny Taylor is out for the year) is evident of that. If they don't have what it takes to shut down opposing offenses, don't expect them to make much movement upwards on this list.
Upcoming Games: 5/22 @Tulsa, 5/26 vs Los Angeles
8
New York (7)
0-2 Losing to Connecticut twice isn't a good way to start the season but the Liberty consistently make it to the playoffs year after year and are in good shape to do so again this year. On the plus side, Cappie Pondexter is likely to deliver solid scoring numbers for the team this year. On the negative side, fan-favorite Janel McCarville is not returning to play once again this year and the team's top draft pick, Kelley Cain, sat out her last year in college because of injuries. But the team has a really strong defensive game, so don't expect them to be pushovers whatsoever.
Upcoming Games: 5/22 vs Minnesota
9
Tulsa (12)
0-1 The Shock had a league-worst 3-29 record last season, but in the offseason they've made drastic changes, including bringing in new coach Gary Kloppenburg and signing point guard Temeka Johnson. Tulsa lost to the San Antonio in their season opener, but in the preseason Tulsa beat Seattle by 16 points. The Shock have potential to be a surging competitor this season if they can capitalize on the new energy surrounding the team. Putting them this high in the ranking is a bold move in and of itself, but that's what makes these things fun. I'm willing to overlook their loss to San Antonio over the weekend to see if matchups this week prove the Tulsa are a changed team after all.
Upcoming Games: 5/22 vs Tulsa, 5/26 @Washington
10
San Antonio (8)
1-0 During the offseason, the Silver Stars brought in a trio of players (Shameka Christon, Tangela Smith and rookie Shenise Johnson) that will bolster their perimeter game, but not address a rebounding shortcoming the team carries over from last year. Third-year center Jayne Appel responded by grabbing eight boards in just 16 minutes off the bench in the team's opener against Tulsa to go along with 13 rebounds from 6-foot-1 Sophia Young. But their opening win came against a Tulsa team that is still feeling themselves out. How the Silver Stars compete against stronger teams will determine if they're serious contenders this season come Playoff time.
Upcoming Games: 5/25 @Connecticut, 5/30 vs Chicago
11
Chicago (10)
1-0 The Sky fell short of making the playoffs last year and in the offseason doubled down by bringing in veteran superstars like Swin Cash, Ruth Riley, Ticha Penicheiro and Le'coe Willingham, who have eight WNBA titles between them. But their bench is what hurt the Sky's prospects last year and the team will only raise their chances of reaching the Playoffs if their backups improve. Behind 23 points and 12 rebounds from Sylvia Fowles, Chicago beat Washington (No. 12 on this list) over the weekend.
Upcoming Games: 5/25 vs Indiana, 5/30 @San Antonio
12
Washington (11)
0-1 Washington's roster this year looks almost unrecognizable compared to last year's - and all in all that's a good thing - in order to rebound from a 6-28 record. Veteran Ashley Robinson joins the team from the Storm and will play a key role in mentoring several of the rookies and young players on the team. But the team has only had a few weeks leading up to tip-off to play together so the Mystics are likely to spend much of the season building team chemistry rather than competing against well-oiled machines like the Lynx. Losing to Chicago by 12 points over the weekend doesn't put the Mystics off to a good start.
Upcoming Games: 5/26 vs Tulsa, 5/30 vs Minnesota

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