Current road trip could be make-or-break week for '09 campaign

Course Corrections

The Shock have just about one month left in the 2009 regular season. And whether they are still contending for a playoff spot over those 30-plus days could be determined by the end of this week.

The Shock have a three-game road trip against opponents - Washington, Indiana and Atlanta - that they're looking up at in the Eastern Conference race. There's no better way to make up that ground than by defeating them head-to-head on their own court.

Best case scenario: the Shock sweep the three games, which would bring them to 11-11. Not only would the defending champions factor into the playoff picture for the first time all season, they would be in prime position to challenge for as high as the No. 2 seed, currently shared by Connecticut and Washington at 11-10. Indiana, at 17-4, appears to be the only team out of reach.

Two wins still gets the Shock near the .500 mark, and, unless the logjam clears, anything north of .500 should put Detroit in the playoff conversation. (At the moment, however, a 3-9 conference mark would give Detroit's competition the last word.)

The Shock have a favorable post-trip schedule - 12 games, seven at The Palace, and two meetings in the final week with Chicago, whom the Shock defeated Sunday but still trail by three in the win column.

First things first, however - the Shock must win on the road, where they're just 3-6. Three of those losses came at - you guessed it - Washington, Indiana and Atlanta. Here's a recap of what happened in each contest and what to watch for this time around.

Tuesday's Opponent: Mystics Aug. 7 at WAS: Mystics 70, Shock 66

Kara Braxton totaled 14 points and six boards, and Deanna Nolan notched 12 points and six assists. Despite the loss, head coach Rick Mahorn praised his team's defensive effort, calling it their best of the season. The Mystics were held seven points below their season average and received quiet performances from All-Star Alana Beard (15 points on 5-for-13 shooting) and Lindsey Harding (eight points on 3-for-9 shooting).

What to watch: The fourth quarter. The Shock have lost both meetings with the Mystics this season, but just as easily could have been 2-0. While the Mystics were simply too clutch June 10 at The Palace after the Shock made it a two-point game with 42 seconds left, the Shock didn't give themselves a chance last Friday. They shot 2-for-14 in the fourth quarter - including an uncontested layup by Braxton that missed with eight seconds left - committed untimely turnovers and dropped key defensive rebounds in the waning minutes of the game.

Thursday's Opponent: Dream June 26 at ATL: Shock 80, Dream 86

Shavonte Zellous scored 15 of her team-high 25 points in the second quarter, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Dream from their first-ever win over the Shock. In her sixth game as a pro, Zellous converted 17 of 19 free throws, setting or tying five franchise records.

Trailing 27-17 after the first quarter, Zellous energized a stagnant Detroit offense. She made 11 of 13 free throws, including the first nine in a row. She set new franchise records for free throws made and attempted in a quarter.

Chamique Holdsclaw scored 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting, and All-Star center Erika DeSouza had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta, which was in control much of the game.

What to watch: Holdsclaw. The Dream had a much tougher time when their leading scorer shot 4-of-17 at The Palace July 22 - but still prevailed, in large part due to a Holdsclaw triple in overtime. Detroit's defense has vastly improved since the beginning of the season, and Holdsclaw will be one of its toughest tests. Holdsclaw leads the Dream in scoring with 14.8 points per game.

Saturday's Opponent: Fever June 21 at IND: Shock 70, Fever 82

Rick Mahorn made a bold move with in his first road game as head coach, moving Zellous to the bench in favor of Alexis Hornbuckle. A more relaxed Zellous hit three of her first four shots and finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan (team-high 16 points) were hot in the first half, and the Shock were in command midway through the third quarter with a 54-37 lead. But the Fever opened the fourth on a 23-2 run to go ahead, and held on for their second win in three nights against the Shock.

The Shock can't afford another long scoring drought against the Fever, which boasts the WNBA's top defense, allowing just 72.3 points per game. Or is it the Shock with the No. 1 defense? They're holding opponents to the lowest shooting percentage (40.6 percent).

What to watch:The pivot. The Shock didn't have the suspended Kara Braxton in the first two games with Indiana, but the 6-foot-6 center has come back to have her best season, averaging 10.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.

The Fever's starting center, Tammy Sutton-Brown, has been out since the end of July with a toe injury. Sutton-Brown had 13 points and nine rebounds June 21, but perhaps most tellingly, the Fever outscored the Shock by 23 points when she was on the floor.