Break-ing Them In
“Oh yes, a much needed break to rest - the toe, the ankle and everything else,” she said Sunday after the Shock’s last game heading into the month-long hiatus for the Summer Olympics. “Just sit back and relax. [Then] come back to work.”
While all teams could use the four-plus weeks to rest and recover, none need the time to regroup as much as the Shock, who lost their last four games before the break. In the wake of suspensions, injuries and three midseason acquisitions - Shay Murphy, Stacey Lovelace and Kelly Schumacher - head coach Bill Laimbeer will spend August turning the new-look Shock into a cohesive unit. “We need this time off, we need to recoup, we need to regenerate,” he said.
Nolan concurred. “Right now it’s much needed practice time for us to get back to Shock basketball, which is playing defense and scoring on the offense end," she said. "I think once we get everyone repetitious in our plays, I think we’ll be fine.”
The Shock’s unsettled situation contributed to their pre-break slide, which began in earnest July 22 when Cheryl Ford was lost for the year with a torn right ACL and five players drew suspensions of varying lengths for their last-minute altercation with the Sparks. The fallout forced Laimbeer to patch together a lineup for the next two games. He signed former Shock head coach Nancy Lieberman, 50, to a cameo appearance, and then replaced her with the seven-year vet Schumacher for the remainder of the season.
With all but two suspensions served in full and no empty roster spots to fill, Laimbeer can begin the process of getting everyone on the same philosophical page, and players can get familiar with their roles in the rotation. “We’re going to come back, we’re going to practice hard, especially on offense,” said Laimbeer, who is giving his players at least the first seven days off before they have to report. “We really need some good time on offense. I’ve got some new players there, and I’ve got to get us to score more consistently.”
The Shock have averaged 78.0 points over their last five games, matching their season average, but it’s been accomplished by putting a far greater strain on Nolan, a 2007 All-WNBA First Teamer. She’s averaged 23.0 points over the past fives games, elevating her season average to 15.8 points. In the last four games, Nolan has played 117 of a possible 120 minutes. Thirty-four-year-old Katie Smith, who will spend her “break” helping Team USA win the gold in Beijing, was on the bench for an average of three minutes in those games. “I just think we’re a tired basketball team, especially our guards,” Laimbeer confessed. “I’m playing our guards so many minutes.”
Nolan and Smith’s burdens should be lessened by the return of starting point guard Elaine Powell, who has been inactive since June 11 with a left foot injury. She’s expected to return to duty after the break, but will have to sit out her first game for leaving bench during the July 22 scuffle. Before the injury Powell was averaging 5.3 points and 2.2 assists while shooting 52.6 percent from the field, her best numbers in several seasons.
Laimbeer also would like more help from Murphy, whom he acquired from the Lynx five weeks ago for forward LaToya Thomas. The 5-foot-11 shooting guard didn’t have an opportunity in Minnesota, playing just five minutes over two games. Despite increased playing time in Detroit - 9.4 minutes per game in 13 games, including three starts - Murphy’s production has not picked up accordingly. She’s scoring 2.5 points per game on 30.0 percent shooting, which drops to 26.3 percent from 3-point range.
Lovelace also has struggled to find her niche after signing with the Shock July 11. The Detroit native, waived by the Dream after 15 games, averaged 6.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game with Atlanta. In seven games with Detroit, she’s shooting 28.6 percent - down from 40.4% - and playing just 6.3 minutes a game. Even with Ford injured and forward Plenette Pierson suspended, the 6-foot-4 Lovelace couldn’t get on the floor Sunday, playing four minutes. The 6-foot-5 Schumacher played 18 minutes in her Detroit debut, scoring four points.
“Schumacher we think is a keeper,” Laimbeer said. “Murphy and Lovelace have to prove themselves all over again. We’re looking at this as a training camp coming up, and they got to get out there and perform. They’re not performing to what we want them to right now. They’ll be the ones under the microscope.”
Reconstituting the Shock with a stable rotation that includes Lovelace, Murphy and Schumacher in supporting roles will go a long way toward getting the Shock back on track for the rest of the regular season, which resumes Aug. 29. The Shock, who fell from first to third in the East during their skid, hope to regain that ground over the final seven games.
“We’ll get it back,” Laimbeer said. “After the break, we’ll be fine.”