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Shock 91617951
Liberty 1411282073
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20070824/DETNYL
Shock and Liberty Game 1

The defending champion Detroit Shock have been among the WNBA's top teams all season. The New York Liberty, on the other hand, needed a strong finish to secure their spot in the playoffs.

The Shock begin their title defense against the streaking Liberty when the clubs square off in New York on Friday in Game 1 of a best-of-three first-round series.

Detroit (24-10) won its first seven games en route to the league's best record and the team's second No. 1 seed in franchise history.

After clinching home-court advantage throughout the playoffs on Aug. 11, however, the Shock lost their last four games of the season - matching their longest skid since opening 2002 with 13 consecutive losses.

"We didn't put the horses out there necessary to win games," coach Bill Laimbeer said after Detroit dropped its season finale 72-66 at Indiana on Sunday. "We worked very hard all year long to get the home-court advantage. Some games we didn't show. But now this is the playoffs. This is when we're ready to go, and that's our focus."

Like the Shock, the Liberty (16-18) started strong, winning their first five games for their longest win streak to start a season since the league's inaugural 1997 campaign.

New York's early success didn't last, and the team was five games under .500 at the end of July. The Liberty, though, won six of their last nine to take the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

They clinched their eighth postseason appearance in the league's 11-year history with a 58-52 victory over Chicago on Sunday. It was their third win in a span of four days.

"This shows how much heart, how much character we have," said center Janel McCarville, who scored 10 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter as New York outscored Chicago 20-7 in the period. "We were able to (win) three games in four days, fight back from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to get the win. We really came together at the right time."

The Liberty will face a challenge in the Shock, who led the league in point differential and averaged a WNBA-best 38.6 rebounds per game - 6.5 more than their opponents, also tops in the league.

New York and Detroit, though, split four meetings this season and two of the contests went to overtime. McCarville, one of three Liberty players to average at least 10.0 points per game, posted 16.3 points on 60.6 percent shooting in her last three games against the Shock.

"I think we match up well with Detroit," McCarville told the Liberty's official Web site. "We are going to go out there and do the best we can. We are going to give it our best shot and we are going to play as hard as we can play and worry about ourselves."

Detroit's Deanna Nolan, the MVP of last year's WNBA finals, averaged 19.5 points in four games against New York.

The Shock could get a boost if forward Cheryl Ford is cleared to return to the court. Ford, the only player in the league to average a double-double this season, hasn't played since July 20 because of cartilage damage in her left knee, but she participated in practice this week for the first time since sustaining the injury. Her status for Game 1 is still uncertain.

This series shifts to The Palace of Auburn Hills for Game 2 on Sunday and Game 3, if necessary, on Tuesday.

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