Photo: D. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Preview: Detroit Shock (1) vs. New York Liberty (4)
Shock Begin Title Defense With Liberty

The defending WNBA champions picked up right where they left off last year and cruised to the best record in the WNBA in 2007. The Shock were so good, in fact, that they were able to relax in the last week of the season and give the reserves some more playing time. Detroit won its first seven games and were 24-6 before letting up a bit and coasting in the last week of the regular season. The Shock were once again led by the super backcourt duo of Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith, who combined to average more than 30 points per game. Nolan was the Most Valuable Player of last year's Finals, but Smith was also instrumental in the run to winning her first title. Both are capable of playing the point and shooting the lights out when they get hot.

The tandem may not be able to afford to miss many shots this time around as All-Star M.V.P. forward Cheryl Ford missed the second half of the season with an injury and may not be back for the first round. Her status remained uncertain as of Sunday night, but it is unlikely that Ford will play in the postseason. Ford, who only played in 15 games during the regular season, averaged 13.0 points and 11.2 rebounds per game in limited action. Her absence creates a huge void in the rebounding department that her teammates will have to compensate for should she not be able to go.

Gm 1: at N.Y.., Fri., 8/24, 7:30 p.m. ET NBA TV
Gm 2: at Det., Sun., 8/26, 1 p.m. ET. ABC
Gm 3*: at Det., Tues., 8/28, 7 p.m. ET. ESPN2
Forward Swin Cash, who spent much of the past few seasons recovering from injuries, bounced back to average 11.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg. The team captain is a vocal leader and the glue that holds her star teammates together and even got to rest her legs during these past two weeks. As good as the starters are, this may also be the deepest team in the WNBA. Reserve forward Plenette Pierson is among the league's top Sixth Women (11.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and both starting center Kara Braxton and 6-8 reserve center Katie Feenstra poses matchup problems for the opposition whenever she is in the game. Shannon Johnson and Elaine Powell have a great deal of WNBA experience to spell the guards.

From their coaches down to their rookie, they think they can and will win it all once again, a confidence mixed with talent heading into the Playoffs that any and all opponents must be wary of.

New York made headlines in the offseason by trading the face of their franchise, Becky Hammon, to San Antonio for the rights to Jessica Davenport, the Liberty solidified their investment in the future. In addition to Davenport, the Liberty also drafted Tiffany Jackson in the first round to complete the transformation of the new-look Liberty. But like the Shock, the Liberty got out to one of the best starts of the WNBA season, shocking the so-called experts and winning their first five games.

Veteran Erin Thorn, getting her first chance to be a starter, set an example and paced the Liberty in the early going by scorching the nets with her 3-point shooting. Third-year forward Cathrine Kraayeveld also helped to indoctrinate some of the younger players to New York by showing her work ethic and do-anything attitude. Point guard Loree Moore, one of several candidates for Most Improved Player on the Liberty, played with a maturity that belied her experience and kept things under control for the first month as well.

But then the Liberty's inexperience began to show. On a team that lacks the star power, the Liberty then dropped 11 of their next 15 games. They allowed the Sun to pass them in the standings, then the Sky and Mystics. But the Liberty managed to stem the tide and win key games down the stretch thanks to their gritty, hard-working youngsters looking to improve and make names for themselves in the WNBA. Center Janel McCarville, who was acquired in the Charlotte Sting Dispersal Draft during the offseason, arrived late to camp and did not make an impact until midway through the season. But once she did, she did not look back. McCarville averaged 13.2 ppg and nearly six rebounds per game in the second half of the season.

Despite the fact that the Liberty were the only team without an All-Star this season, five players averaged in double figures for the season. The last team to qualify for the postseason, the Liberty may also benefit from not having let up in the last week of the regular season. They were 6-3 in the month of August and wins against Chicago, Washington and Detroit in the final few games of the season may also give them confidence that they can compete with the defending champs.

2007 Regular Season: Detroit Shock 2 - New York Liberty 2
Some fast facts about the Shock-Liberty first-round matchup:

Eight different members of the Shock roster have led the team in scoring this season: Deanna Nolan, Katie Smith, Plenette Pierson, Cheryl Ford, Swin Cash, Shannon Johnson, Katie Feenstra and even rookie Ivory Latta. Seven different players were the leading rebounder for the Shock this season as well.
The Shock were not the highest scoring team in the WNBA this season (they finished third), but their scoring margin differential was nearly five points per game, best in the league. That is more than 1.5 ppg better than the Mercury, who finished in second place. That statistic has proven to be one of the best indicators of postseason success.
The Liberty were the best 3-point shooting team in the WNBA this season, finishing with a 37.3 percent team average. Loree Moore, Cathrine Kraayeveld, Erin Thorn and Shameka Christon knocked down combined to hit 200 3-pointers.
In just her third WNBA season, New York's Loree Moore dished out 4.8 assists per game, good enough for fourth in the league, while also finishing second in the WNBA with 2.27 steals per game.
The Liberty had four players average in double digit scoring, but not one of the starters scored more than 11.0 ppg. As a starter, Janel McCarville scored 14.1 ppg and grabbed 6.2 rpg, but spent much of the early part of the season as a reserve.


Friday, June 2, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY: Shock 67, Liberty 57 | Box score
Detroit Leaders: Deanna Nolan (17 pts., 4 ast), Cheryl Ford (11 pts., 11 reb)
New York Leaders: Shameka Christon (18 pts.), Cathrine Kraayeveld (13 pts., 7 reb)
NBA TV Highlights: Play | Webcast archive

Friday, July 6, Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, MI: Liberty 82, Shock 81 (OT) | Box score
New York Leaders: Janel McCarville (18 pts., 12 reb), Loree Moore (9 ast)
Detroit Leaders: Cheryl Ford (22 pts., 18 reb), Deanna Nolan (21 pts., 8 ast)
NBA TV Highlights: Play | Webcast archive

Wednesday, July 18, Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, MI: Shock 87, Liberty 82 (OT) | Box score
Detroit Leaders: Deanna Nolan (21 pts., 7 ast), Cheryl Ford (19 pts., 18 reb)
New York Leaders: Janel McCarville (17 pts., 9 reb), Ashley Battle (17 pts.,)
NBA TV Highlights: Play

Sunday, August 12, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY: Liberty 85, Shock 84 | Box Score
New York Leader: Tiffany Jackson (16 pts., 6 reb)
Detroit Leaders: Deanna Nolan (19 pts. 6 reb) Katie Feenstra (16 pts., 13 reb)
NBA TV Highlights: Play | Webcast archive