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updated: 8/17/2014 10:00 PM

Cautious Sky rests stars in anticipation of playoffs

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At least there were the "Fan Appreciation Game" festivities after the game.

Pretty much the only time Sky fans got to see stars Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince in action Sunday afternoon was when they signed autographs and posed for pictures after an 84-72 loss to the visiting San Antonio Stars at Allstate Arena.

Delle Donne, Fowles and Prince were dressed in uniform and ready to go, but they were purposely sat the entire game in order to rest for the upcoming WNBA playoffs. While reserves such as guard Courtney Clements (17 points) had career nights, most of the Sky's other key players also logged limited minutes.

Fans were certainly disappointed to not see their favorites. But in a season in which injuries up and down the roster have plagued the Sky, it's at least somewhat understandable why head coach Pokey Chatman made the decision to protect the "Big Three."

"I weighed it with all the trial and tribulations as it related to the injuries and having to say a prayer every time someone hits the floor," Chatman said. "It was about moving forward (healthy into the playoffs). It was also important to me (to play the reserves significant minutes). There's going to come a time in the playoffs when someone's going to be in foul trouble and it's not 'get-ready' minutes anymore. These (reserves) needed some confidence going into the playoffs."

There may have been other reasons to stick with the reserves all game.

Losing to San Antonio also dropped the Sky (15-19) into fourth place in the Eastern Conference, setting up a first-round playoff matchup against the first-place Atlanta Dream (19-15).

The opener will be on Friday (6:30 p.m., NBA-TV) in Atlanta, with Game 2 at 6 p.m. on Sunday in Chicago (ESPN2).

The interesting fact here is that the Sky was 3-2 against the Dream this season and matched up fairly well in that series. Had the Sky beaten San Antonio on Sunday, its first-round playoff opponent would have been Indiana Fever, its arch-nemesis.

The Sky was 2-3 against the Fever this season and got swept by Indiana 2-0 in the first round of the playoffs last season. Being able to avoid the Fever out of the gates seems to have had some appeal with the Sky.

"And we had a shot to be 4-1 against Atlanta (this season)," said Chatman, trying to add more credence to her logic. "I'm not a betting person, but we have matched up well this year with (Atlanta)."

Delle Donne, who leads the Sky in scoring (17.9 ppg) but missed 17 games this season to deal with a flare-up of her Lyme disease, isn't as concerned with the specific matchups. After all the twists and turns of this season, she would have taken any playoff opponent.

"We just wanted to get into the playoffs, at this point," Delle Donne said. "After the season we've had and the adversity we've faced, getting to playoffs was the biggest thing. And now that we're all healthy, I think we're a really dangerous squad."

Delle Donne, who has seen her playing time regulated since her return July 31, is ready to let it all out for the playoffs.

"I've been doing well. I feel like I've been gaining strength each game, being able to up my minutes," Delle Donne said. "Now it's playoff time. There's really no saving me anymore. It's just go time."

Former DePaul guard Allie Quigley added 16 points off the bench for the Sky. Danielle Adams led San Antonio (16-18) with a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds.

San Antonio point guard Becky Hammon, who will be retiring at the end of the season after 16 seasons in the league and become the first full-time female assistant coach in the NBA (Spurs), played only 10 minutes and was held scoreless.

The Stars, who are also headed to the playoffs, also seemed to be resting some of their starters.

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