The Indiana Fever and Washington Mystics both have playoff aspirations this season.
Each team, though, will be missing a major component instrumental toward that goal when they meet in the season opener on Saturday night.
The Fever will be without six-time All-Star Tamika Catchings and the Mystics will be missing three-time All-Star Alana Beard when they square off at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Catchings helped Indiana jump out to a 16-4 start, but the team was never the same after she tore her left plantar fascia on July 20. The Fever went 5-9 over the remainder of the regular season.
Catchings returned for the playoffs, and helped lead Indiana to a first-round win over Connecticut before falling to Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals.
Catchings, who led the Fever in scoring (16.6), rebounding (9.0), assists (4.7) and steals (3.1) last season, had offseason Achilles surgery, and there is no timetable set for her return.
"Every year we sit here and say this is going to be the year," Catchings said. "The key is trying to stay healthy, definitely for me, and also staying focused. We need to finish off the season before we focus on the playoffs. I want to win the Eastern Conference in the regular season, and then the Eastern Conference finals in the playoffs, and then finish off with a championship.?
With Catchings out, Tammy Sutton-Brown and two-time All-Star Katie Douglas will be expected to carry the load.
Sutton-Brown averaged a career-high 12.0 points last season, and was named to her first All-Star game. Douglas, acquired from Connecticut in the offseason, averaged a career-high 17.0 points in 2007, while being named to the all-defensive first team for the third time.
I don't want to put a target on (Douglas') chest, but I think her and Tan (White) are going to be our top scorers without Catchings," first-year Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "I've decided to not worry about how many games Catchings is going to out for, and instead just focus on what we need to do while shes gone."
The Mystics will be without Beard for the first two games of the 2008 season after she had surgery in September to repair a torn labrum.
Beard ranked fourth in the league in points (18.8) and steals (1.9) last season, and helped keep Washington in playoff contention until the final day of the regular season despite opening a franchise-worst 0-8. The Mystics finished 2007 by winning 16 of their final 26 games.
I dont think we can get any worse than 0-8," said guard Monique Currie, who averaged 10.5 points for Washington last season. "We want to start how we want to finish and that is strong so we are really going to dig in and dig down in these first few games to be successful.?
Last month, the Mystics traded DeLisha Milton-Jones to Los Angeles for forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who should help Washington on the boards.
But the Mystics still don't have a second scoring threat to take some pressure off Beard. Last season, Washington was last in the league in shooting (40.4 percent) and averaged 76.0 points per game.
Indiana won all four games over the Mystics last season, and has won eight of the last 10 meetings.