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Wednesday, June 4, 2003
Houston: We have no problem

By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com

A few days ago, Cynthia Cooper said Houston had lost some of its swagger.

WNBA ON ESPN2
The WNBA debuts on ESPN2 on Thursday, when Los Angeles hosts Sacramento (10 p.m. ET). The two-time WNBA defending champion Sparks are 4-0 this season and in first place in the Western Conference. Sacramento is two games back at 2-2.

The Comets, she said, no longer play with the same confidence they possessed during their four championship runs. And they might even be lacking the "urgency, intensity and motivation" Houston had when it swept four consecutive WNBA titles from 1997-2000.

Cooper might be right. After all, the Comets were coming off of back-to-back losses, something that occurred just three times during Houston's four-peat. And counting Minnesota's win over Houston on Sunday, all but two teams in the league have now beaten the once invincible Comets.

But any second-guessing was put to rest Tuesday, when the Comets reminded us all just how good they can be -- and that they can overcome any obstacle. Houston played a patient first half, shooting 69.2 percent from the floor before the break, when the team learned Cooper will miss at least two weeks with a torn right rotator cuff. Despite the bad news, Houston persevered for a 66-51 victory.

Perseverance has become a trademark for Houston. Because the Comets have reached the playoffs every year since the WNBA's inception, their resiliency is often overlooked. But Houston has a habit of overcoming adversity, from losing Sheryl Swoopes first to pregnancy and then an ACL tear, to Kim Perrot's death and the reported chemistry problems between Swoopes and Cooper.

And that's why no one should worry about coach Van Chancellor and his team this season. Yes, Houston has brought new players into the fold, and like other teams, is struggling with salary cap issues and injuries. But every year, the Comets have been able to battle adversity to remain one of the league's top teams.

Van ChancellorChancellor deserves most of the credit. While Swoopes, Cooper, Tina Thompson and Janeth Arcain have earned All-Star accolades, and combined to win several regular-season, all-star game and playoff MVP awards, Chancellor is the one behind the scenes making it all work, and his consistency in the WNBA is unparalleled. Even Los Angeles, which has won the past two league titles, failed to make the playoffs early on.

It's not always easy to make a team of superstars come together and live up to their potential. But Chancellor has done it, willing the Comets and making them believe they are the best, sometimes making them change their offensive and defensive schemes and yet still maintaining that playoff level -- with a target on their back year after year.

Though Houston's string of successive league crowns ended in 2001, Chancellor's efforts that year were just as impressive. In their first season without both Cooper (retired) and Swoopes (ACL), the Comets rode the backs of Arcain and Thompson -- who shot a single-season WNBA record 528 shots -- into the playoffs.

After six seasons, Chancellor, who has had incredible support from team president Les Alexander and vice president Carroll Dawson, is still overlooked, and even reminiscent of Pat Riley, who often went unrecognized despite coaching teams to greatness in the NBA.

Right now, Houston is in third place in the West, 1½ games behind conference leader L.A. And maybe Cooper was correct in saying teams are no longer intimidated to play Houston. But don't worry about these Comets. They'll still come up big.

Putbacks
  • Feeling Minnesota: We told you that contraction makes everybody better and weeds out the meek. And that's what we've seen so far this season, which already has seen Minnesota beat Houston, Connecticut scored 91 points against the Comets and Seattle beat Sacramento. So far, the Lynx has demonstrated their already a much better team than last season. Sheri Sam is playing well and Svetlana Abrosimova has her confidence back. Coach Suzie McConnell Serio is letting them play, and players such as Michele VanGorp are really flourishing in her system.

  • Don't knock the Shock: Right now, Detroit is the only team in the league that hasn't won a game (of course, the Shock have only played one game, too). But the Shock will beat a handful of teams this season. They are young and talented with loads of energy. Don't underestimate this group.

    Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.