Doris Burke's Opening Statement
Well I'm anxious to see Detroit get started on the defense of their title. We haven't had a repeat champion in awhile. I heard the news coming out of Detroit today; that Cheryl Ford is going to test that knee is a fascinating storyline and I'm anxious to see how that has developed. They have two of the toughest guards in the league and I mean that both mentally and physically in Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith. They both excel on the defensive end and really set the tone for Detroit. I think they are a team that believes that they are champions and that is half the battle. That said, I think there are some other very talented teams out there. I think New York has surprised some people and in any playoff circumstances I think it is unwise to underestimate your opponents. New York has had success; they are young and maybe carefree, so that should be intriguing series and that's the first thing I think of about these playoffs.
Carolyn Peck's Opening Statement
Well, I agree with Doris and I think that the strongest thing that Detroit has going for them is their mental attitude. I think there are going to be some interesting match-ups, especially in the first round with Connecticut and Indiana. Does [Tamika] Catchings play or does she not? And does that make a difference? Connecticut did not finish the regular season strong, so can they get back the momentum that they started with when they got back from their West Coast swing. I think the health of Asjha Jones is going to be important and the strength of her ankle and I think it is going to be extremely important in that match-up - in that first match-up - especially inside of defending Tamika Whitmore and Tammy Sutton-Brown. In addition to [Margo] Dydek and Asjha Jones, it's going to be Le'coe Willingham and Erika Desouza and how they can defend in the post. And then I think it is going to be an exciting run in the West, really with both games - the speed of Seattle and Phoenix going against each other and the defense of Sacramento and San Antonio battling it out.
Q: I was wondering if you could talk about the Becky Hammon trade. Looking back now, how it ended up working out - it looks like it worked out the best for both teams. I was wondering if you could address that a little bit.
DB: I think it absolutely did work out well for both teams. I know the fan base in New York was somewhat upset, or at least there was a contingent of the fan base that was initially upset that Becky Hammon was traded away. It is hard not too root for someone like Becky. She's not the most physically gifted, but she gets by on guts and guile and she's worked hard to develop a skill set. So she's basically "everyman" and you can root for someone like that. From San Antonio's perspective, in addition to her tremendous skill, the thing that Becky brought that changed the entire tone of that franchise, was that within 15 minutes of being traded she started talking about championships. She looked at the roster, she knew she'd be reunited with Vickie Johnson, whom she has been to battle with on many, many nights in the WNBA at the highest level. She looked at some of the young talent, Sophia Young and Marie Ferdinand-Harris and Ruth Riley, who has championship experience, and she thought, "Why not us?" And that has been the vibe that has permeated that locker room from the outset. So from San Antonio's perspective, Dan Hughes knew what he had when he acquired her. He had been after her for a long time and finally was able to get that deal done. New York had taken tons of criticism over the last several for not getting any younger, not getting any more athletic, not keeping pace with the talent around the league and Detroit set the tone for that athleticism and in-your-face basketball. So what New York did was they did get younger; they are more athletic with the addition of Tiffany Jackson in the post. You've got a legitimate back-to-the-basket player in Jessica Davenport. You've got a star in the making with Janel McCarville, the acquisition from the Dispersal Draft. And Erin Thorn, who very much like Becky Hammon was an understudy for her first several years, when she got her opportunity, was able to take great advantage. It worked well for both franchises. As you know, that is not always the case in professional sports.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about Swin Cash playing against Ashley Battle? Do you think both of them have a winning attitude because of what they went through at Connecticut and being part of a program like that?
DB: I think when you come from a program like Connecticut, there are several advantages. First of all you've played for as demanding a coach as you can play for in Coach [Geno] Auriemma. So they expectation level on a daily basis, not just your performance level in a game situation, but your performance level every time you step through the lines of practice. So they expectation that you conduct yourselves like professionals is already inherent in people coming out of that university. I think those are two huge advantages, coupled with the fact that those are clearly two talented individuals. Swin Cash had an outstanding year. I feel like each and every day she went in, she went to the next level that made her an All-Star and could be among the best finishers prior to that injury.
Ashley Battle is an interesting story. There was the debate at the time in Connecticut about which position she was best suited to play and it was probably the knock on her coming into the league. Is she a guard? Is she a post? Where are you going to play her? The reality is Ashley Battle is a great basketball player and she finds a way, given her set of skills to be productive. She uses her athleticism. She's worked hard to be a better jump shooter. She's a quality rebounder for her size because of her ability to get off the floor. But that is an excellent question because they came from a program that on a daily basis had expectations to achieve at the highest level is a huge advantage to both of them.
Q: This is a two-part question, first for you, Carolyn. You watched a lot out West. What are your thoughts on the match-ups because I'm sort of looking at Seattle probably could not have asked for a better match-up than the Mercury. And as a follow-up, Doris, your thoughts on the match-ups in the East because it seems like there are some people poised to be upset in terms of being the higher or lower seeds, however you want to look at it.
CP: First in the West, starting with Phoenix and Seattle. Seattle won the regular season series 2-1. In August, the score was 111-101. Both teams score very well and Seattle actually shot a better field-goal percentage than Phoenix. It's going to be a matter of 'can Seattle maintain a consistent scoring ability that way over Phoenix?' I think Phoenix has five talented players that start the game and have four that shoot over 41 percent. They like to get out and get up and down the floor very well. So you look at Seattle and you say that they have the playoff experience, but they don't have the point guard and backup point guard that they had in Tully Bevilaqua, they don't have Sheri Sam. But they do have Lauren Jackson and I've watched her for several games now and she is a hard person to defend. If they don't let her get it done inside the way she wants to, she'll step out and take advantage of shooting the three from the perimeter and I think she has also improved her ability to put the ball on the floor and take you off the dribble. I think with Seattle playing the first game at home and then having to go to Phoenix, that could play the second game into Phoenix's advantage regardless of how the first game plays out. I think that's a series that is going to go all three games.
When it comes to Sacramento and San Antonio, I'm really happy for San Antonio and what Dan Hughes has done in putting together the team that he has. He is an experienced playoff coach. He also has three experienced playoff players in Becky Hammon, Vickie Johnson and Ruth Riley. Sophia Young has really had a tremendous year in scoring and rebounding and is going to have to maintain that throughout the playoffs. With Sacramento, they are a tough defensive team. I think they have the ultimate professional in Yolanda Griffith. I think that she will have her team in a playoff mentality. But I think a concern would be Rebekkah Brunson and how truly healthy is she? Can she play at 100 percent and play all the way through the series? Also, Nicole Powell and Kara Lawson, the main offensive threats on the perimeter. I think that, too, could be a series that goes to three.
DB: Well, I guess, looking at Connecticut and Indiana first... Teams, because it is playoff time, don't fundamentally change who they are. The strengths and weaknesses that won and lost games in the regular season will be the same kinds of things that will win and lose games in the playoffs. With Connecticut, I think a couple things. First, when they lose, a lot of times they struggle for stretches with turnovers and that could be for a three or four-minute stretch in games or it could be throughout the course of the game or series. So I think they are a very good team when they are out in transition and making good decisions and getting the ball where they want it. They struggle when they turn the ball over. What else I think about them is with the trade of Taj [McWilliams-Franklin], Asjha [Jones] becomes the starter, and Carolyn touched on this earlier in this call, now it comes down to off the bench in the post with Erika Desouza and Le'coe Willingham. Those two players, how they perform in the postseason, particularly in match-ups where Margo Dydek is not of value to be on the floor, meaning if the pace is up-and-down or the opponent who can face from 15 feet and completely take her out of the mix. I think Le'coe and Erika have got to be solid. They bring different strengths. At times I've felt like Erika Desouza has been lost this season, inconsistent in her production. She's got ability but will she be consistent in the post? Those two things I guess. I think that if they're going out, Tamika Catchings is playing in this series. If Connecticut doesn't turn the ball over and get quality post production off the bench, I believe they've got a great chance to win this series. Because I said Tamika Catchings doesn't matter, I mean clearly, to me, along with Lauren Jackson probably the other entry, Oscar, I think they were having the finest individual seasons I had ever seen this league have. It drastically changed match-ups across the board. And Tamika Catchings, because she impacts the game on the defensive end, I don't care about her conditioning, she gives them a perimeter stopper. So if she's got mobility and she can play for stretches, then it drastically increases her chances to win this. They found their a bit without her, but in a short three-game series, I don't know, it is tough to do - to incorporate somebody back into the flow.
Detroit and New York. I look at New York's stats and they're outrebounded by four [rebounds] per game and they're last in the league in scoring. This team wins games because they are unselfish, they outwork people and they're attentive to details in the scouting reports. It'll be interesting to me because when you think about Detroit, they're one of the most athletic, in-your-face teams in the league, they dominant the points in the paint category. The post play, the unique set of people that New York will come at you with, Cathrine Kraayeveld, Janel McCarville, Jessica Davenport, Tiffany Jackson. They have four legitimate post bodies to contend with all that power on Detroit. Why has New York had some success? You look at the stats from their four games, they've been able to match them in the points in the paint -- at least in their wins. You cannot be overpowered in the paint when you play Detroit. You've got to come with that mental and physical approach that you are not going to be outworked in the box. It'll be interesting to see if the blissful ignorance of youth -- I know this team struggled to close games out for stretches, 10 losses by 10 points or less for New York because of their youth. How do they respond in the playoffs? Is it blissful ignorance or do they get tight? That'll be an interesting thing to watch.