East looks for All-Star breakthrough

0-3 record against West offers plenty of incentive

Pro Basketball

July 15, 2002|By Travis Haney | Travis Haney,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - In the brief history of the WNBA All-Star Game, the Eastern Conference participants haven't had much to brag about.

They are 0-3 against their Western Conference counterparts heading into tonight's midseason exhibition at what is expected to be a sold-out MCI Center (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.).

One thing can be said about the East team, though - it's getting closer. The margin of victory for the West squad in the inaugural game in 1999 was 18 points. In 2000, it was 12. Last year, in Orlando, the East came within eight points of winning.

"This is the greatest shot we've had," said the New York Liberty's 36-year-old guard, Teresa Weatherspoon, who has been on the losing end each of the three years. "I believe it's going to happen."

But why this year? The casts, save a few faces, are essentially the same. It's the same post-heavy West against a defensive-minded Eastern team.

And if there's a chink in either team's armor, it's with the East's, which will play without the league's leading scorer and rebounder, Washington Mystics forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who has been nursing an injured ankle for nearly a month.

Maybe the East's motivation boils down to a fatigue of failure.

"I think everyone gets tired of losing," said Charlotte Sting guard Dawn Staley. "We'll make it difficult for them to win tomorrow."

In the past, the West has allegedly leaned on a height advantage, which will be debatable tonight, with the East roster showing seven players taller than 6 feet and the West five. The perceived advantage is attached to one player: two-time All-Star MVP and reigning league MVP Lisa Leslie.

Leslie is averaging 15.7 points and 10.5 rebounds for the Los Angeles Sparks, who have the league's best record at the break (15-3).

When Leslie is paired with Houston Comets forwards Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, the West sports a formidable line.

"There's a lot of veterans on the West side. They're a lot bigger than we are," said Orlando forward Nykesha Sales, a three-time All-Star. "We just have to find ways to combat that."

But veterans aren't the only name of tonight's game. Some first- and second-year players will get their first taste of All-Star status, one of them close to home.

Because of Holdsclaw's injury, rookie Stacey Dales-Schuman was selected to represent the Mystics. "I'm just going to bring a lot of energy and have fun," said Dales-Schuman.

She will battle fellow All-Stars Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings in the second half of the season for Rookie of the Year honors. Bird is averaging 13.9 points and 6.1 assists for the Seattle Storm. Catchings, a forward for the Indiana Fever, is fourth in the league in scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.2 rpg).

Young or old, short or tall, there is an inevitability about tonight's game. Unlike Major League Baseball's All-Star Game last week. Weatherspoon said she'll see to that.

"I bet these fans aren't going to be walking out of here. We're going to another half or a quarter or something," she said. "There's no ties in this. I ain't tying nothing but my shoes to get ready to play."

NOTE: Catchings missed yesterday's All-Star practice and nearly decided to skip the game as the result of a concussion suffered in the Fever's Friday night loss to Miami. She was fitted yesterday for a facial mask and was scheduled to arrive in Washington last night. She is expected to play tonight.

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