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By DAN PIERINGER, STATS Writer

Detroit Shock guard Katie Smith thinks that the fight in the final seconds of her team's last game could be good for the WNBA in the long run.

It's not as easy to put positive spin on the news that Shock forward Cheryl Ford suffered a season-ending knee injury in the brawl.

With their leading rebounder out for the year and other players suspended for their roles in the fight, the Shock will have trouble putting Tuesday's incident behind them as they visit the surging Houston Comets on Thursday night.

With 4.6 seconds left in Detroit's 84-81 loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday night, Shock forward Plenette Pierson got tangled up with Sparks rookie Candace Parker and the pair fell to the floor. Several other players from each team got involved in the scuffle, and at one point, Shock assistant coach Rick Mahorn appeared to push Sparks star Lisa Leslie to the court.

Mahorn was handed a two-game suspension while Pierson was dealt the harshest punishment with a four-game ban. Teammates Kara Braxton, Tasha Humphrey, Elaine Powell and Sheri Sam each were suspended for one game, though it is unclear if any or all of the Shock players will be forced to sit out Thursday's game.

Though many around the WNBA are concerned about the type of attention the league is getting for the incident, Smith sees potential in the increased publicity.

"A lot of people are paying attention to the WNBA right now that have probably never followed it," Smith said Wednesday. "Is it the right kind of attention? No. But I don't think the publicity hurts. In hockey, people live for the fights.

"Who knows, maybe we'll meet in the WNBA finals and there will be even more interest."

Reaching the finals for the third consecutive season won't be as easy for the Eastern Conference-leading Shock (16-9) without Ford, averaging 10.1 points and 8.7 rebounds. While trying to restrain a teammate, the 6-foot-3 forward's right knee buckled. She left the floor in a wheelchair and will miss the rest of the season and the playoffs with a torn knee ligament.

That's bad news for a team that has lost consecutive games at home after a 10-0 start in Detroit and appears in danger of dropping three straight overall for the first time this season.

"You're going to be down after losing two games in a row at home, especially emotional, last-minute games," Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said. "And then throw Ford's injury on top of that."

The recent success of the Comets (12-12) doesn't make things any easier for Laimbeer's club. Houston has won six straight games at home and three in a row overall to break even on the season. It hasn't been over .500 since finishing the 2006 campaign 18-16.

Tina Thompson had 19 points and seven rebounds as the Comets rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half to beat Phoenix 94-92 on Tuesday night.

Thompson had 17 points and eight boards in Houston's season-opening 85-66 loss to Detroit on May 17. Smith led the Shock with 21 points and five 3-pointers.

The Shock are hoping to sweep their season series against the Comets for the second time in three years. They won both of the clubs' meetings in 2006 before splitting a pair last year.

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