The Sacramento Monarchs are hoping to confirm their status as one of the WNBA's elite teams by winning the league title this year.
Eastern conference champion Connecticut (26-8) and Western champion Sacramento (25-9) were dominant in the regular season and figure to be the teams to beat in the playoffs. Both had their seasons ended by the defending champion Seattle Storm last year.
Sacramento fell in the West finals, the Sun in the championship series.
The playoffs get under way tonight, with the New York Liberty (18-16) hosting the Indiana Fever (21-13) in a best-of-three East matchup, and Seattle (20-14) visiting the Houston Comets (19-15) in a West series.
Sacramento will face fourth-seeded Los Angeles (17-17) in Game 1 of their series tomorrow in a rematch of last year's opening-round series. The roles are reversed this year, however, as the Monarchs were the No. 4 seed when they upset a Sparks team that had the league's best record.
''There are no sure things in the WNBA," Sacramento coach John Whisenant said. ''It's been two straight years that we knocked off a higher seed in the playoffs, so we know how slippery that can be."
Los Angeles, loser of three of four to the Monarchs in the regular season, has been inconsistent because of injuries to forward Mwadi Mabika and point guard Nikki Teasley.
''We're just happy to be in the playoffs," Los Angeles's Chamique Holdsclaw said. ''It's a whole new season now."
Despite winning five of their last seven games, the Sparks needed a loss by Phoenix Saturday to get in the playoffs.
''They have a new attitude about the game again, and they've tried to gather themselves and dominate like they have in previous years," Sacramento's Yolanda Griffith said.
Seattle begins defense of its title with another second-place finish and the same record as last year despite losing two starters and a key role player in the offseason. Lauren Jackson played like an MVP again, Sue Bird led the league in assists, and Janell Burse and Iziane Castro Marques stepped up in supporting roles.
''It's a different group, [and] something a lot of people didn't think we could do," Bird said.
The Comets, winners of the first four WNBA championships, return to the playoffs after missing out last year for the first time since the league began play in 1997.