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Posted Aug 31 2009 2:40PM
The Detroit Shock couldn't take advantage of Diana Taurasi's absence during a loss to the Phoenix Mercury earlier this season.
As the teams meet again Tuesday night, Detroit may be the club trying to overcome the loss of one of its top offensive players.
Katie Smith missed the Shock's latest game with a back injury, and she is questionable as a Detroit team fighting to make the playoffs hosts the Western Conference-leading Mercury.
Phoenix (20-9) split the two games it played without Taurasi when the WNBA scoring leader served a suspension for her DUI arrest. The Mercury got 26 points from Cappie Pondexter and 22 from Le'coe Willingham to beat visiting Detroit 97-90 in overtime July 18.
While the Mercury are atop the West, the Shock (13-15) have slipped into a tie for fourth in the East and have some work to do in their last six games if they plan on defending their championship.
Smith, Detroit's second-leading scorer at 13.7 points per game, averaged 21.7 in leading the Shock (13-15) to a sweep of San Antonio in the WNBA finals last year. She couldn't go Saturday against the Silver Stars, though, ending her franchise-record streak of 142 consecutive games as Detroit fell 100-88 in overtime.
"They were just making shots,'' said Deanna Nolan, who leads the Shock with 16.1 points per game and scored 30 on Saturday. "We were just one rebound away from winning in the end of regulation.''
Taurasi has led the Mercury to eight wins in 12 games since returning, giving them a two-game lead over Seattle. Any combination of four Phoenix wins or Storm losses will give Taurasi's club home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs.
"We have a goal to have the best record, we fought this far to get to a position where we have an opportunity to do something really good in the regular season," Taurasi said after scoring 21 points in a 95-84 win over Connecticut on Saturday. "I think that always carries over into the postseason, but we still have a lot of work to do."
Smith had 21 points and five assists in the loss at Phoenix earlier this season, while Nolan was held to 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting. Willingham made the difference for the Mercury with one of her best offensive games of the year.
"She did a great job," coach Corey Gaines said. "She got her points off of hustle plays."
WIllingham, though, averaged 6.8 points in her last eight games after scoring 13.2 over her previous six.
Smith averaged 17.5 points and Nolan 16.0 in two victories over the Mercury last season.