Ford's knee biggest question mark

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Shock coach Bill Laimbeer knows a lot about playing with pain and he isn't sure how much Cheryl Ford will be able to play in the WNBA finals.

"I'm very concerned about Cheryl's knee against Phoenix,'' said Laimbeer, who put together a streak of 685 consecutive games as a player. "We've asked too much of her already.''

Ford's health is the biggest question mark with Detroit set to host Phoenix in Game 1 of the finals Wednesday night. The series features Laimbeer's gritty, physical Shock and Paul Westhead's warp-speed Mercury but could hinge on the health of the rugged forward.

Ford missed six games after injuring her knee in June, then sat out the season's final 13 games after aggravating the injury against Indiana on July 20.

Game 1 will be Detroit's fourth contest in six days, including must-win victories over Indiana on Sunday and Monday, and the effort has taken an obvious toll on the league's best rebounder. Ford said Tuesday that she hopes to play Wednesday.

"I don't know - we'll see,'' she said.

Ford, the MVP of this year's All-Star game, struggled in Detroit's postseason opener, failing to score in 11 minutes as Detroit was routed by New York. She came back with double-doubles in Games 2 and 3, helping Detroit advance, but had to play 39 minutes in the Shock's 71-70 overtime win in Game 3.

At the time, Laimbeer said he didn't even know if Ford would be able to play in the first game of the Indiana series, but she had 15 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes of the 75-65 loss.

After one day off, Ford only had to play 19 minutes in the Shock's comfortable Game 2 win, but even that appeared to have been too much. She lasted just over 4 minutes of Game 3 before limping to the bench with two fouls and the Shock trailing 16-3.

"I thought she was done for the game,'' Laimbeer said. "She was in so much pain that I didn't think there was any way she'd be able to go back in.''

Midway through the second quarter, with the Shock rallying, she told Laimbeer that she wanted to give it one more try.

"I knew I had to suck it up,'' she said. "It was tough, but my team needed me.''

In her next 14 minutes, spanning the second and third quarters, Ford had 15 rebounds to help the Shock turn the game into a rout.

"That was an incredible performance,'' Laimbeer said. "She was a rebounding machine, and she did it all on one leg.''

Detroit's struggles to get out of the Eastern Conference are a sharp contrast to what Phoenix did in the West. The Mercury swept Seattle and San Antonio, averaging 99 points a game, to make it to their first finals since 1998.

That means, while Detroit will only have one day to rest before the finals, Phoenix has been off since finishing off the Silver Stars on Saturday.

"You get what you earn, and finishing it in two means you get a day off,'' Westhead said. "Our players will do anything to get a day off.''

Phoenix struggled badly against Detroit this year, losing both games. The Shock set league records with 40 points in the third quarter and 72 points in the second half in a 111-82 rout of the Mercury on July 8.

Detroit outrebounded Phoenix 55-26 in the game, even with Ford at less than 100 percent. Former Mercury post player Plenette Pierson, who went on to win the league's first Sixth Woman award, had more offensive rebounds (five) than the entire Phoenix team (four).

"Rebounding is a great strength of theirs, and we don't have any magic formula,'' Westhead said. "We're just going to be attentive and hopefully limit their second shots.''

The Shock, seeking their third title in five years, were dominant in the regular season before losing the last four games after clinching home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

But Ford's knee becomes an even bigger issue with Phoenix's all-out pace.

"We're going to do what we did all season - run the ball,'' Tangela Smith said. "We don't change for anyone. It's going to be a great matchup.''

Calendar Strip here