Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes speaks to guard Becky Hammon during practice.
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Practice Report: What a Difference a Game Makes
By Mark Bodenrader,

SAN ANTONIO, October 2, 2008 -- With a stinging Game 1 defeat to the Detroit Shock, the Silver Stars lost home-court advantage. San Antonio also lost that swagger it carried into the Finals as the league’s best regular season team three wins away from a WNBA title.

That was evident Thursday as the Silver Stars took to practice at the AT&T Center with a more serious and determined demeanor. The prospect of having all the hard work put in during the season vanish in a blink was suddenly a brutal reality. Fall down 0-2 with Games 3 and 4 at Detroit and you can all but make it official.

“This is a crucial game for us,” said guard Becky Hammon. “Our backs are against the wall. We look at this as we’re kicked, but we’re definitely still alive. This is a five-game series and that was one game. We just have to come out and take care of ourselves this next game.”

Among all the Silver Stars players, Hammon has to be the most eager to get Game 2 started following an opening night performance that was well below her standards. The team’s leading scorer during the regular season collected just 13 Wednesday on 4-of-10 shooting and most of those came after Detroit had built up a sizable edge.

To get Hammon going, the Silver Stars know they must adjust to the defense that kept her in check. But, as head coach Dan Hughes points outs, this is not something the team hasn’t dealt with in the past.

“If you’ve followed our series, I think this has been pretty typical,” said Hughes. “People will attempt to impede her, or hold her a little bit. Fouling her is a pretty good strategy. Obviously, a couple things have to happen. We have to make them pay a little bit for that. We have to get to the foul line, or get some better ball movement and attack in some other ways. Spatially, we need to work to get her in the most advantageous situation if they’re going to do that.”

With depth issues in the backcourt because of injuries to Helen Darling and Edwige Lawson-Wade, the team is looking to starting backcourt mate Vickie Johnson to help relieve some of Hammon’s pressure, and VJ seems more than up for the challenge.

“It’s my job to help Becky every way possible,” said Johnson. “She played more than the one (point guard) yesterday, but Friday she won’t have to do that. I’ll take that responsibility and I’ll do a better job of getting her open and getting her easy shots.”

Darling and Lawson-Wade will once again be game-time decisions for the Stars, but there doesn’t appear to be much reason for optimism, which is why Hughes is considering stretching his rotation beyond the seven players he used in the opener.

“We’ll probably go a little deeper,” said Hughes. “We’ll probably bring an eighth player into our rotation. Typically we have gone with nine with those two (active). I think we would do well to add another player off the bench.”

The lack of depth didn’t just affect the backcourt in Game 1. The entire Silver Stars team was wiped out at the end the opener and it caused their rally attempt to fall short. But it didn’t help that the Stars dug themselves an early hole that they had to methodically climb out of.

“We can’t put Coach in a situation where (the Shock) go on a huge run where we’re not necessarily gassed, but we need that timeout just to break that momentum,” said Hammon. “We’ve got to have those timeouts at the end of the game so if we need a 20- or 30-second breather we have it available.”

But the Stars' problems don’t stop with getting their stars open looks and coping with a lack of depth. A lot of attention must also be paid to how to better defend Detroit veterans Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Katie Smith, who each had monster Game 1s offensively. Oh, and there’s also the task of making sure Deanna Nolan doesn’t bust out in Game 2 and perform at the level she’s capable of.

“We’ll definitely have a different game plan,” said Ann Wauters. “We have a sense of urgency for Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan and sometimes that opens it up a little bit for the bigs. I give a lot of credit to Taj. She made those shots and not all of them were inside. She hit some outside shots and that was key for them and something we have to limit.”

“We just have to have another level of focus,” said Hammon. “We have to be a little more keyed in on their Big Three and have a sense of urgency. But really we just have to play our type of basketball. We didn’t play our type of basketball (in Game 1). They just outplayed us and you have to give them credit. But we’re moving on to Game 2.”