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COMETS LOOM LARGE AS WNBA FINALS OPEN

The Houston Comets had the longest winning streak in the WNBA this year, scored the most points and crushed their first-round playoff opponent.

They have Cynthia Cooper, the Michael Jordan of women's basketball, and the league's second-best ballhawk in Kim Perrot. And they are the only champions the 2-year-old WNBA has had.

Houston brings its daunting combination of talent and momentum into the America West Arena -- site of one of the Comets' rare losses -- tonight for the first game of the best-of-three finals against the Phoenix Mercury (8 p.m., ESPN; Lifetime).

Game Two will be Saturday in Houston, and Game Three, if needed, will be Tuesday in Houston.

The Mercury, who finished the regular season with a 19-11 record, were seeded third in the playoffs, but got the advantage on second-seeded Cleveland by having that first game at home. It upset the Rockers, lost on the first try in Cleveland and then closed out the series with a 71-60 victory Tuesday night.

The Comets, 29-3 after beating Charlotte by 14 and 16 points in their first-round series, won't bend on the road. During a 15-game winning streak this year, the Comets won nine in a row on the road.

"Women's ball is so new," said Cooper, a 5-foot-10 guard who won her second MVP award after averaging a league-high 22.7 points and making 64 of 160 three-point shots. "We don't have the history. We can't look back and compare to anything, but I know it's something special."

The Comets had the best record (18-10) last year, won the Eastern Conference title and beat New York in a one-game final. The Mercury has relied on 6-3 Jennifer Gillom, whose 20.8 scoring average was second to Cooper's.

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