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Sky clinch franchise's first playoff berth

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When the final buzzer sounded, there was no wild celebration for Elena Delle Donne and her Chicago Sky teammates. Not what one would expect from a team that just earned its first trip to the postseason after eight years of disappointment.

Then again, the Sky have bigger goals in mind than just making the playoffs, not to mention an early morning flight to Atlanta for a game Saturday.

``I don't want to minimize it, but I also understand this is just the first step, not the final step,'' Chicago coach Pokey Chatman said.

With seven games left in the regular season, the Sky (19-8) are hoping for more than just an appearance in the postseason. They'd like to wrap up the top spot in the East. They hold a 3 1/2-game lead on the Dream.

``Playoffs is the first step. Now we've put ourselves in the position where we could have the best record in the East, best overall record,'' said veteran Swin Cash, who has won three WNBA championships in her career. ``I'd be lying to you if I didn't say (the best record) wasn't on the radar, but for us it's really about taking every game at a time.''

Chicago, which started playing in the WNBA in 2006, trails Minnesota by a half-game for the league's top mark. While the Sky clinched a spot in the playoffs, the rest of the Eastern Conference postseason field may come down to the final few days.

``I don't think we're concerned with first, second, third,'' Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry said after the Dream lost to Washington 74-64 on Friday night. ``As long as we clinch the playoffs, we can take it from there.''

Atlanta is three games in front of third place Washington and Indiana while the Liberty are two games out of the final spot. The Liberty (10-16) have eight games left, including the final two on the road against Indiana and Washington.

``We've got a big stretch of games coming up right here, there's a lot of games that we can win, and we have to win them,'' New York coach Bill Laimbeer said. ``If we don't, we're going to be in trouble.''

Washington (13-15) has played two more games than New York and Indiana and won't be on the court again until Wednesday against Atlanta.

``We only play two games in like a 16- or 17-day period and both against them,'' Washington coach Mike Thibault said. ``We can feel good for several days. It's miserable otherwise.''

Indiana has rebounded from a 1-7 start to move into contention for the postseason. The defending champions were beset by injuries early on, but finally have been getting healthy.

While the final two spots in the East are still up for grabs. The Western Conference is more a race for positioning. Minnesota holds a one-game lead over Los Angeles for the top spot. Phoenix and Seattle are battling for the third and fourth with only a half-game separating them after the Storm's 81-73 victory over the Mercury on Friday night.

Seattle holds a four-game lead on fifth place San Antonio with eight games to play. The Storm have been the league's biggest surprise this season since the team has been playing all season without Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, both of whom are out with injuries.

``It's natural for people to think that way because of the players who are not here,'' Bird said. ``But if you look at the talent in this room, the experience in this room and the depth, it's not that surprising.''

The team has been held together by Tina Thompson, who announced she's retiring at the end of the season. The 17-year veteran isn't surprised by the success the team's had so far this season despite missing its two stars.

``It's not that we're setting out to prove anybody wrong, it's that we never believed it,'' she said.


AP freelancers Scott Johnson in Seattle, Benjamin Standig in Washington and Brian Sandalow in Rosemont, Ill., contributed to this report.


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The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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