Detroit Shock coach Bill Laimbeer isn't shy about discussing playoff expectations for his team. A first-round meeting with the Indiana Fever could make fulfilling those expectations a little easier.
The Shock look to continue their dominance of the Fever as the clubs open their best-of-three series in Indianapolis on Friday night.
Detroit has made consecutive trips to the WNBA finals, winning the title in 2006 before losing to Phoenix in a deciding Game 5 last season. After his team won its last five regular-season games to put together the best record in the East at 22-12, Laimbeer isn't afraid to set the bar just as high for this year's Shock.
"Win the whole thing," he said. "It's always our expectations. Our goal is always to win the Eastern Conference. You can't win the championship unless you're in the finals. That is our No. 1 priority, to get to the finals."
To do so, the Shock will need to eliminate the Fever (17-17) for the third consecutive season. Detroit swept Indiana in the first round in 2006, then won two of three in the conference finals last year.
Including a three-game sweep of the 2008 regular-season series, the Shock are 9-3 in their last 12 meetings with the Fever.
Detroit, though, isn't taking anything for granted against a talented Indiana team that finished strong with wins in five of its last seven games of the regular season to salvage a .500 record and its fourth straight playoff berth.
"Every night, we're going to have to come ready," veteran Shock guard Katie Smith said. "You have to be tuned in because everybody picks it up a notch. It's 0-0, doesn't matter what your records were during the year."
Though she's more cautious than her coach, Smith also has her eyes on a third consecutive trip to the finals.
"One series at a time. Obviously every team in the playoffs thinks that they can win it," she said. "I think if we come ready to play every game we will be there at the end."
The Fever are just as confident after closing the regular season Sunday with a franchise-record point total in a 103-89 win over Phoenix. Indiana shot 50 percent from the field and had four players score at least 18 points.
"We're peaking at the right time," said forward Tamika Catchings, who missed the first eight games of the season with an Achilles' injury and spent much of the last three months rounding back into All-Star form. "We've come out the last couple of games, and our focus has shot up another level. ... I'd like to think that people have finally found a way to play together, play consistently better basketball."
As well as they've played lately, the Fever know they'll need to step it up a notch as they enter what is likely to be a physical series against the Shock. The teams' frequent meetings have been intense and sometimes rough, something Catchings attributes to Detroit's recent success.
"It's just one of those things," she said. "For so long, Detroit has been the team you have to go through to win a championship. There's friction between them and every team in the league, not just Indiana."