Liz Cambage, Erin Phillip in playful mood ahead of WNBA tip off

Liz Cambage is ready to tackle the WNBA head on but first she has to dodge the clutches of her Dallas Wings clubmate Erin Phillips.

Cambage is back with in the WNBA after a four-year break and former Opals teammate and AFLW star Phillips is on the coaching staff at the Wings.

While the Wings will tip off the new season against the Sandy Brondello-coached Phoenix Mercury in Phoenix on Saturday [Australian time], Cambage and Phillips were in a playful mood.

“Erin has not cracked the whip on me yet, she just tried to tackle me at the airport,” Cambage exclaimed while talking to The Age on Friday morning.

“She is still silly old Erin, on the court she is all business but off the court we are a fun team – that girl is so strong but this is why I could never play AFL as those little girls would just jump on me, bring me down and I don’t see myself getting up very quickly.”

Playfulness aside, the connection between Cambage and Phillips played an important role in luring the Opals superstar back to the US league where she previously played well, embraced the league's physical style but struggled with homesickness.

The 26 year old is a more worldly professional and she has a point to prove considering the WNBA website ran a story on league MVP candidates this week and couldn’t find room for her in its top 10.

The Wings came out to Australia during the WNBL season to court Cambage and coach Fred Williams has already put in plays to make the most of Cambage’s scoring talents.

She has a strong team around her too with guard Skylar Diggins-Smith and power forward Glory Johnson accomplished WNBA stars and emerging talents Allisha Gray (the reigning rookie of the year) and first round pick Azura Stevens expected to play well.

The Wings made the playoffs last year but even with Cambage face a big task to rise into title contention ahead of recent champions Minnesota Lynx, Los Angles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury while the league has a new club in the Las Vegas Aces, a franchise the NBA will watch closely as they toss up a future in the gambling haven.

“Fred has put in a lot of plays to go to me and it’s all about me just finishing,” Cambage said.

“The girls made it through the first round of finals last year, it’s just early days but we will take it game by game and if we play our team game we can be pretty unstoppable.”

In a stark reminder of how cut-throat the WNBA can be, Mercury and Opals coach Brondello cut Opals forward Cayla George from the Mercury’s roster earlier this week and Cambage admits she was shocked to see her good mate waived.

The Mercury still have the most Australians in the league with point guard Leilani Mitchell and guard Steph Talbot on the roster, Brondello leading the team and Penny Taylor also on the club staff.

It’s not clear if another club may pick up George who has played with the Mercury for several seasons.

Eight Australians were on WNBA rosters before the start of last season although only five made it to opening night.

If George doesn’t get re-signed that number will remain the same with Cambage joined by Rebecca Allen (New York Liberty), Sami Whitcomb (Seattle), Mitchell and Talbot.

“Compared to previous years we don’t have as many [Australian] girls and Cayla just got cut,” Cambage said.

“I really didn’t see that coming. I don’t know how we can push for more girls in the league again.

“There is only so many teams and so many spots – when you see so much talent cut, the talk from a lot of girls is about us needing more WNBA teams as there is so much talent but not enough spots.”

WNBL star Kelsey Griffin had signed with Connecticut Sun but an injury meant she couldn’t attend training camp so was waived last month.

Point guard Kristy Wallace was drafted by the Atlanta Dream but won’t join the team this season while Sydney Flames guard Tahlia Tupaea was drafted by Minnesota in recent years but has battled injuries.

ESPN shows a selection of games and the WNBA League Pass shows all games but the league will also continue its deal with Twitter to live stream 20 games this season including four games on May 21 [Australian time].

The Twitter games averaged 613,000 unique views last season and the top three games averaged over a million views.

Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury tip off the WNBA season on Saturday at midday.

WNBA Australians 2018

Liz Cambage (Dallas Wings)

After four years Cambage returns to the US and could well show why she is rated among the world’s best players.

Leilani Mitchell (Phoenix Mercury)

Mitchell is a mainstay in the US league and one of its best playmakers, her passing and poise will be crucial for the Mercury.

Steph Talbot (Phoenix Mercury)

Talbot is a rising star at international level and after dipping her toes into the WNBA last year could be ready to take a bigger role in 2018.

Rebecca Allen (New York Liberty)

Allen has played three seasons in New York and is battling for minutes on a deep roster.

Sami Whitcomb (Seattle Storm)

Whitcomb was a revelation in her rookie WNBA campaign and the Perth Lynx shooter will again be a threat.

Sandy Brondello (coach, Phoenix Mercury)

The Opals boss has a big task ahead to push her Mercury back into title contention then take charge of the national team for September’s FIBA Women’s World Cup.

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