||Doris Burke is an original member of the WNBA's broadcast team, signing on as radio analyst for the New York Liberty in 1997. She also broadcasts WNBA, NBA, and men's and women's college basketball games for ESPN and ABC and is also a regular contributor to NBA TV. After her career as a player at Providence College, where she set marks in career assists and free throws and is currently ninth in total scoring (1,372 points), Burke served as an assistant coach for her alma mater and was inducted into the Providence College Hall of Fame. She was the first woman to ever broadcast a New York Knicks game and has been nominated for an Emmy. Click here to read Doris's regular-season blog.||
Detroit Shock (1) vs. Phoenix Mercury (1)
These are the two teams people wanted to see. We wanted to see Indiana and Detroit in the Eastern Finals because they were the best teams there. And now, it's great to see Phoenix and Detroit here in the Finals because over the second half of the season, the Mercury proved they were the best team in the West.
These teams will both get up and down the floor, but Phoenix really wants to play its up-tempo game. It should really be an entertaining, fast-paced series played by two talented teams.
|Deanna Nolan's leaping ability helps her not only get off her own jumpers, but also helps on defense.|
|D. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images|
In Deanna Nolan, you have another superstar, but a reluctant one. She has flash to her game, but she's so understated personally that you don't always appreciate her as much as you should.
Diana Taurasi, on the other hand, has a lot of style, flair and skill to her game. Like Deanna, she loves performing in the big moments, but she has a more outgoing, effusive personality.
To me, the difference between those stars really captures the essence of the series as a whole. It reminds me of the old Lakers-Celtics rivalry, where you had the flashy, fast-paced stars against the blue-collar, half-court team.
Can Paul-Ball Win a Title?
Terry Gannon and I have been discussing this for weeks now. As Phoenix made its second-half run to the top of the West, we've wondered if their shoot-'em-up style is capable of winning a championship. Despite all of their successes this season, it always seems like championship basketball inevitably grinds down to a half-court situation. So the real question to be answered in this series is whether or not the Mercury can grind it out when they have to.
We've seen Detroit grind it out. They can play that game. So if the pace of the series slows and Phoenix has to perform in a half-court set, I'm anxious to see how they'll conduct themselves. Their usual plan is to try to wear you out, but can they win when they have to be both more patient and more physical?
We don't know yet. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Mercury haven't been tested in that way, because Seattle and San Antonio both tried to keep up with them. They were both unsuccessful. Dan Hughes told me after their series that he wished the Silver Stars had been more focused on the defensive side of the ball and on slowing the pace. It's fool's gold to try to run with the Mercury. So Detroit will probably put in some measures to keep the tempo where they want it to be.
No Rest for the Weary
It will be a major challenge for Detroit to come through as physical a series as their matchup with Indiana was to play Game 1 tonight, just 48 hours after Game 3. With all of the bodies that were banging, with all of the minutes their starters were forced to play, it won't be easy physically.
But the Shock have shown a champion's heart throughout, they've won in every way they've had to win and this series will really test Bill Laimbeer's theory that you need home-court advantage to win in the postseason. They simply cannot let one or two get away. Home court is now! So they have to try to put that fatigue factor aside.
Smith Back in the Saddle
I've said it before. When Katie Smith makes shots, the Shock are a great team. Even when she's not making shots, they're still a very good team. She'll influence the game whether she's making shots or not, running their sets and setting the tone on the defensive end. But things will be considerably easier for Detroit if she's hitting shots.
But you know what? I'll take my chances with Katie. She has struggled all year long, but when they've had to have her in the playoffs, she's done it. I'll go down swinging with Katie Smith any day of the week.
Two to Watch at the Two
The most intriguing matchup in this whole series is Deanna Nolan against Cappie Pondexter. Nolan is an amazing defender because of her physical attributes and incredible foot speed. She has remarkable rise on her own jump shots, but that also allows her to get up and defend well on her opponent's jump shots. She's also stronger than her frame would suggest and does a phenomenal job of keeping her mark in front of her, staying between her mark and the basket.
And she never quits. She might get bumped on a screen, but she won't get caught up in it. With her length and speed, she's almost always able to recover.
Cappie is ballin' right now. She can shoot the mid-range jumper and loves to take her defender to the hoop, so Nolan's ability to stay with her could be the most important story line in this whole series.
Thoughts for Penny
|All-Star Penny Taylor is a serious offensive threat both outside and inside, but she'll face two very different matchups against the Shock.|
|D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images|
Penny's success is going to be predicated on reading her defender. She'll take Ford way away from the basket, and she'll probably take Pierson down to the box. Pierson is a great defender down low, especially for her size, so Penny won't have an easy time in this series. But Detroit will be equally challenged trying to contend with her.
Stepping Up Off the Bench
It's worth mentioning some reserve players who could figure into this Finals series. Ivory Latta has seen only spot duty for the Shock, but against the Mercury's rover defense, she might be able to get some open shots. So if she gets some time, will she be able and willing to make those outside shots?
For Phoenix, Kelly Mazzante has to keep playing at a high level. As fast paced as they play and as physical as Detroit is going to be, Phoenix's bench could see plenty of the court in this series. Mazzante hasn't made any mistakes and she's made open shots. And that's just what you need from a bench player.
I'm taking Detroit based on the home-court advantage. It will go five games and I think the home court will hold serve. I'm taking Bill Laimbeer at his word.
But I feel like Game 1 is going to be the key to this series. It won't be nearly the same grind for the Shock as Indiana was… they're not going to get as beat up physically. But Game 1 tonight is going to be a real endurance test for Detroit, a test of will. Can they physically and mentally get themselves through it? We'll find out soon.
Detroit Shock (1) vs. Indiana Fever (2)
I think this series is going to be an absolute war. These teams were the best in the East all season long, and this is the matchup everyone wanted to see. They were walking down the path toward a great regular season race before they were hit with injuries to their stars, Tamika Catchings and Cheryl Ford. It might have been an epic battle for home-court advantage in the playoffs, but after the injuries, it was not to be.
Playing (Really, Really Well) Through Pain
|Tamika Catchings returned from 13 games away to average 19.7 points and 15.3 rebounds per game for the Fever in the first round.|
|Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images|
Tammy Sutton-Brown needs to find herself. Her season started to change when she needed to wear that mask. Some players can wear that kind of mask and not notice any difference, but so far she hasn't been one of those players. But she has to do more in this series. With the variety and array of players Detroit will throw at her in the post, Indiana needs more of a contribution from TSB. I don't know if it's her confidence or her annoyance with the mask, but if something is bothering her, she has to find it and find it quickly.
On Guard in Indiana
After a very solid regular season, Tan White showed a bit of her youth and inexperience during the first round against the Sun. Consequently, veterans like Anna DeForge and Sheri Sam (by the way, how smart does the Fever front office look for picking up Sutton-Brown and Sam last offseason?) had to be monumental. And they were.
With Tully Bevilaqua, you know exactly what you're going to get, and I love that. Look at her numbers from the first-round series. Nothing too incredible, right? But with Tully, it's about her personality, her leadership skills and how she makes her teammates feel and play when they're on the floor with her.
Against the Shock, the guard play for Indiana is going to be a huge factor. They'll have to score at nearly the same level by taking smart shots and making open shots. Everything they did against the Sun, they have to repeat it against the Shock.
Smith More Than a Shooter
The entire season has been a struggle for Katie Smith, and the first round against the Liberty was no exception. She just hasn't been shooting well. I spoke with her prior to Tuesday's Game 3, and even she couldn't remember a year where her shooting slump has gone on this long. But she is the greatest shooter in the history of professional women's basketball. She has more threes than anybody, more points than anybody. And there you go… What happened Tuesday night? The moments when the Shock absolutely needed buckets, she hit them.
|Despite shooting just 24.3 percent from the floor in the first round, Katie Smith came up with the big buckets when the Shock needed them.|
|Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty Images|
The value of Katie Smith extends so far beyond the ability to make shots. She's an extraordinarily tough defender capable of guarding multiple positions, she provides great leadership both on the court and in the locker room and she is a voice that her teammates look to. And if she doesn't hit those shots at the end against the Liberty, they don't advance.
When Katie Smith hits shots, Detroit is a great basketball team. Not very good… great. Yes, the other pieces of the puzzle are doing what they do, but they're nearly unbeatable when Katie is hitting from the outside.
Tweety Takes Flight
Oh my god, how good is Deanna Nolan? It is such a pleasure to watch her play. It is so fun for me to see her reach the level we all thought she could reach. This is a woman who possesses extraordinary physical ability. But until Bill Laimbeer arrived in Detroit, she was unwilling to take over games even when her team needed her to. I don't know what Laimbeer did to get her to come out of her shell, but he did it and their franchise and the fans of the WNBA are better off for it.
I don't think you can stop Deanna Nolan. And I don't care if she's missing shots or her percentage isn't good. If I'm an opposing coach, I don't know what I do with her. The Shock are balanced enough offensively that it's hard to double her. If you try to take Deanna away, which would require multiple people, you're going to get hurt somewhere else. She and Katie are the best backcourt in the league. There's absolutely no question in my mind.
Key Player of the Series
Plenette Pierson made two monumental plays on the defensive end against the Liberty, and she's really been doing it all year long. She's a versatile defender, and she made two different kinds of game-saving plays… the blocked shots and then the pass to Swin Cash for the go-ahead hoop underneath when Laimbeer was looking for a timeout. She's fearless, she knows her role and embraces it and she's been key all season long for the Shock.
And not many other teams have a matchup for her. She's quicker than almost all of the fours out there. And she's a 10-15 foot rebounder, which means that she's facing up from that distance and then going in on a dead sprint and getting offensive rebounds. That's hard to deal with for a traditional four. And you can't go at her with a three, because she's too active around the rim.
This is going to be a physical battle and don't be surprised if it gets a little chippy. But I think Detroit wins in three. It's a combination of home court, toughness and a will to win when they have to have it.
I know people will bring up their struggles against New York, but the Liberty played great basketball. They were a much better team than people gave them credit for, and they played a big part in Detroit's troubles in that series. So I don't think the Shock underachieved. In fact, they played their rear ends off. They understand how to be champions, and that's what's going to separate them.
Phoenix Mercury (1) vs. San Antonio Silver Stars (2)
Contrast in Styles
|Despite being a dangerous scorer, Diana Taurasi may play an even bigger role as the "rover" in Phoenix's defensive scheme.|
|Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images|
It's really advantageous for the Mercury to play at the pace they like. Not only because their offense thrives in that style, but also because they then force the other team into playing at that pace, which then forces them into turnovers and bad shots. It can really impact the other team's execution in its half-court offense. There's just a real rhythm to what Phoenix does, and if you're the Silver Stars, you don't want to get caught in it.
San Antonio really has to find a nice balance -- that's their game -- but it won't be easy. I underestimated Phoenix defensively, but after watching what they did against Seattle, their rover defense can be excellent. And they'll focus on Sophia Young. In theory it might make more sense for Diana Taurasi to stick with Becky the whole time in that zone, but she just covers too much territory out front and in the corners.
So if I'm Phoenix, the people I stay aware of are obviously Becky Hammon and Sophia. And Diana, as the rover, will probably be on Sophia. Now Diana did a solid job on Lauren Jackson, but Sophia is a completely different check. She's a little bit undersized to be down in the post, but she has a terrific 15-foot jump shot. Diana has the size and quickness to stay with Sophia, but she could have trouble when Sophia goes to her right. Diana will have to get a hand up in her face on the mid-range jumper and will have to force Sophia to her left as much as possible.
Phoenix just too hot?
Coming into the playoffs, you always want to have momentum, and, boy, do the Mercury have it. They're unquestionably the hottest team in the league, winning their last seven games and 13 of 14. Phoenix is just so gifted offensively. Diana, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor are all capable of 30-point games. And Tangela Smith in the middle has done everything they hoped she would do.
Rekindling Past Successes
One unsung player who I think could have a big impact is San Antonio center Ruth Riley. It wouldn't surprise me to see her become a big factor in this series. She can hit shots on the face-up and she has back-to-the-basket skills. If she can become a serious offensive weapon for the Stars, like she did for Detroit back in the Finals against L.A., then look out because that's another person that Phoenix will have to worry about. If Diana is the rover and keying on Sophia, and the other players in the zone are trying to take away Hammon's 3-point shot, Riley could have some space in the middle. They'll have to give space to someone, so if that person is Ruth, she'll have to step up. And she has a history of playing big in big moments, so it'll be interesting to see if she can recapture that magic.
Experience, Confidence not a Problem
|Becky Hammon brings a wealth of playoff experience from her days with the Liberty.|
|D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images|
Becky Hammon's mentality in coming to San Antonio, that willingness to talk championship from the first day she was in town… that has brought a swagger and confidence to her team. Half the battle in pro sports is talking about and believing in your ability to win championships. And within 15 minutes of her trade from New York, she was talking title.
Key Player of the Series
Marie Ferdinand-Harris really stood out in the first round. She's a former All-Star who now appears to be back and ready to roll. She's still one of the quickest players in the league and if she's able to slash to the hoop and hit some mid-range jumpers against that Phoenix zone, she could do some damage and make this series a lot more intriguing than most people think it will be.
I already think this is going to be a great series, but it could be as good as New York-Detroit if San Antonio is able to hang with and play that up-tempo game with Phoenix.
I think this has the possibility of being a terrific series, but I believe Phoenix will come out of it. First and foremost, they have home-court advantage. Even if they lose Game 1, they get two shots at home, and I think they're just too good there.
I spoke with Bill Laimbeer during the first round, and he really impressed upon me the importance of home-court. He was telling me a story about when his Pistons played the Celtics back in 1987, the year Bird stole the ball. He kept saying how his team blew the Celtics out in Detroit… blew them out! But the Celtics won all three games at the Garden by two or three points and then had Game 7 back home again. And that's why you work so hard in the regular season to get that home-court advantage: so that all-important Game 7 is in your house.
So, like I said, I think Phoenix will come out of this in three games. They're riding a ton of momentum, they have balance offensively and I think they'll come out on top.
Detroit Shock (1) vs. New York Liberty (4)
Ford Roaring Back to Life?
|If Cheryl Ford is able to return for the Shock, they are instantly the favorites to repeat as WNBA champions.|
|Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images|
She's not a rhythm player and she's not the kind of player around whom they'll set up plays and design an offense. She understands her strength: rebounding the ball at both ends. So she'd have an easier time getting back into the team's flow than, say, a Tamika Catchings after a long time off. Indiana will run its offense through Catch, but the Shock won't have to incorporate Cheryl back into their game plan. She should just be able to get back out there and do her thing.
Back for Another Title
Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith are two of the most physically and mentally tough guards in the league. They're tested, they have championship experience, they average over 30.0 points a game between them and both of them are great decision-makers with the ball in their hands. And although they don't get a lot of credit for it, they're both great defenders as well. Deanna has incredible speed and athleticism. And Katie brings her strength and guile: she bumps cutters, she knows when to hold and when to put a forearm into somebody.
Although she missed a couple of games at the end of the year, Swin Cash has quietly put together another great season. There have been times this year when I felt like she has been just as good as she was during her first few years in the league. She's out running the break, she's hitting those midrange jump-shots and she's hitting the offensive glass. I like what she's bringing to this team.
Even though Detroit coasted through the final week of the regular season, losing its last four games, I don't see them having any problems shaking off the cobwebs. After their first title, they had a tough time with the idea of repeating and really showed their youth the following season. But this time, they're physically gifted and there's a collective understanding that this is a different time of year. They'll be prepared.
Playoff Justice for the Liberty
During the regular season, the Liberty were outrebounded by more than four a game, second worst in the league. They scored the fewest points a game in the league. And they're among the youngest teams in the league as well. So you ask, "How does this team win games?"
1. They're incredibly unselfish. There's no superstar. Janel McCarville
has emerged as a go-to player, but she's as good of a passing center as you'll
2. They pride themselves on outworking their opponents. They understand that to win games, it needs to be a collective effort on their part.
3. They are absolutely committed to carrying out their coaching staff's game plan.
|Cathrine Kraayeveld could play a big role against Detroit because of her abilities both in the post and shooting from the outside.|
|Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty Images|
But their post players need to produce as well: McCarville, Kraayeveld and Davenport and Jackson off the bench. They are four big bodies who are very different types of post players, all of whom can compete with the dominant front line of Detroit. And that's huge, because to beat the Shock, you need to overpower them in the post, and that means being both physically and mentally tough.
Key Player of the Series: Feenstra/Braxton
The challenge for the Shock of winning a repeat title becomes exponentially greater if Cheryl Ford doesn't return, but the loss of Ford puts a spotlight on the contributions of Feenstra and Braxton. If that two-headed monster can contribute 12 and 10 together a night, Bill Laimbeer will definitely take it, because he knows what he's getting from Katie, Deanna, Swin and Plenette Pierson. And it's a huge plus for both of them that that responsibility doesn't rest solely on one player's shoulders. As long as they can continue to share the load in the paint, Detroit has a great chance to repeat.
I think New York is going to play hard, especially with the emotion of sneaking into the playoffs and playing at home in Game 1 Friday. If they can come in loose because the expectation level is so low, they could take a game from the Shock. But if it dawns on them -- "Uh oh, we're playing the defending champs." -- I don't know how well they'll react.
I think Detroit wins, but I won't predict a sweep. Even if it is a sweep, it's
not going to be two skate games for the defending champions.
Indiana Fever (2) vs. Connecticut Sun (3)
Stick With What Got You There
|If point guard Lindsay Whalen is aggressive, attacking the hoop and leading the Sun up and down the court, they're playing their game.|
|David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images|
When Connecticut has struggled, turnovers have been a major issue. They have to be solid and composed with the basketball.
Trade's Effect on Asjha
The trade of Taj McWilliams-Franklin to L.A. really focuses a lot of the limelight on Asjha Jones, not to mention the contributions off the bench of Erika De Souza and Le'coe Willingham. On nights when Margo Dydek won't play a lot of minutes, when the pace of the game takes her out of the mix, those two bench players especially have to find a way to produce on the backboards and by hitting their open shots. Both have shown flashes throughout the season -- I did a game when De Souza put up eight points and eight boards -- but they'll need to be more consistent in the postseason.
To me, the best barometer of Connecticut's success is Lindsay Whalen. Is she getting out in the open floor? Is she pushing the issue? Is she getting the Sun's tempo up to where Coach Thibault wants it to be? When she's attacking and aggressive and assertive offensively, everything changes for Connecticut.
You pit Whalen against Tully Bevilaqua, who I think is one of the most underappreciated players in the league. Kind of like Cheryl Ford, Tully knows who she is. She's not going to take shots she shouldn't take. She's not going to commit turnovers she shouldn't commit. She's a grind-it-out, pesky defender who's going to play her heart out every single night and she'll set the tone for the Fever. She's not the dynamic scorer Lindsay Whalen is, but as her team's rock-solid presence, she's going to have an influence on this series.
Tan White has become an integral part of the Fever's offense on almost an every-night basis. Everything the team was hoping for when it drafted her has come to fruition this season. Most would consider Katie Douglas and Whalen to be of the All-WNBA ilk, but Tully and Tan aren't too far behind.
|If Tamika Catchings returns to the Fever lineup, it will be interesting to see how quickly she is incorporated back into their offense.|
|Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images|
Key Player of the Series: Tammy Sutton-Brown
Tammy Sutton-Brown was probably the biggest offseason acquisition made by the Fever. She's a legitimate back-to-the-basket center who by virtue of her size and skills gives you someone who can match up with anyone on the interior. If she's a legitimate scoring threat, as she has been this season, she'll open up opportunities on the outside for Tan White and Anna DeForge.
The Sun aren't feeling so great about where they are right now, especially after losing three of four to finish off the regular season. So I think a lot could depend on which team gets off to the faster start in Game 1. Can Connecticut step up and make a statement at the Mohegan Sun?
I think they can, and despite their internal concerns, like the still iffy health status of Asjha Jones, I think they're in a better place now than the Fever. I think Asjha will come out ready to play and I like Connecticut to move into the Eastern Finals.
Phoenix Mercury (1) vs. Seattle Storm (4)
Guarding LJ a Tough Task
|Plain and simple, Lauren Jackson has had one of the finest seasons in WNBA history.|
|Mitchell Layton/NBAE/Getty Images|
Phoenix plays a lot of zone. It's called a "rover" defense. Diana Taurasi sits in the middle and shadows the opposing team's most dangerous player. And she has done a great job in that role, but Lauren has still put up amazing numbers against the Mercury. Frankly, I don't think there's a defender out there who's going to put a significant dent in Lauren's numbers. And in a short, best-of-three, first-round series like this, any single player can carry a team to victory.
Injury Cloud Over the Storm
Seattle is clearly banged up. Betty Lennox has had significant injuries this season, Sue Bird has missed some time and Janell Burse is out for the playoffs after having surgery on her wrist. How cohesive are they without having played together a lot recently? I don't know. But with the individual talent they possess -- with Sue, Betty and Lauren -- they have the talent to win games. They won't be an easy out for the Mercury.
Three-Pronged Mercury Attack
Any time you have three legitimate scorers, like Phoenix does with Diana, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor, you have a chance to win a lot of games. With that depth, you make it impossible to send multiple defenders at any one of them. All three can succeed off the dribble, in the post or shooting from the outside. They're all triple-threat. Opposing teams can't really say, "OK, tonight I'm taking away Diana's three-point shooting." If you do that, coach Paul Westhead will stick her on the block in the half-court set. Or they'll get out in transition and Diana will trail and step back and hit a three.
Pushing the Pace
|The Mercury's long, athletic post Tangela Smith will be called upon to match up with Jackson down low.|
|Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images|
Also, it's a lot easier to slow your style down to win a grind-it-out game than it is for another team to speed it up to Phoenix's level. And because they've had continuity in their personnel and staff, they know how to keep the pace where they want it to be.
Defensive Battle? Seriously?
So even though it's neither team's specialty, this series could come down to who plays the better defense. These teams can go up and down and win trying to outscore their opponents, but it might come down to which side is better able to grind it out. A couple of weeks ago, these teams played a 111-101 game, so both teams are going to score. So it's hard to imagine, but the series could really be decided by who's more focused on the defensive end.
Coming into Sunday's action, the Mercury, despite allowing the most points in the league, had the third-lowest field-goal percentage allowed. You'd never call Phoenix a defensive-minded team, but that stat is a product of teams taking shots and playing at a pace they're not comfortable with. That speaks volumes about how their pace affects their opponents. Take that, Terry Gannon!
Key Player of the Series: Tangela Smith
Because Lauren Jackson has been so dominant in the paint this season, I think Phoenix center Tangela Smith could play a huge role in how this series plays out. She is the prototype post player for Westhead and his system. She can shoot the trail three, she can run the court and her length and athleticism make her a solid rebounder.
She's going to make LJ work. Oh sure, Lauren will get her points and her rebounds, but teams have succeeded against the Storm when they punish Lauren physically down low. And if I'm Westhead, I'm going to make sure that continues.
I think Phoenix has the edge, but it's not going to be easy. Seattle just isn't healthy enough to win a series that will be this competitive. You can succeed with one player banged up, but it will be hard to overcome their lack of continuity because of the injuries. Seattle has played well down the stretch, but it's a different ballgame in the playoffs.
San Antonio Silver Stars (2) vs. Sacramento Monarchs (3)
Are You Experienced?
|Becky Hammon brings playoff experience to San Antonio and has been playing with a chip on her shoulder all season long.|
|D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images|
Hammon's Championship Mentality
When it comes to Becky Hammon, everybody talks about her points and assists, and yes, she's had just a great year. But the reason San Antonio has made this quantum leap is because Hammon has been talking championship since the moment she was traded. She looked at the roster and said, "You know what? We've got as good a chance as anybody." And she has spread that vibe throughout San Antonio's locker room. From the beginning of the season, they've played like they believe they can win a championship. To me that's half the battle.
Young Mature Beyond Her Years
I think Sophia Young is an All-WNBA performer. But she has to respond well to Sacramento's tough defense and must continue to score and rebound as she has in the regular season. And even though she hasn't yet done it in the playoffs, she does have a National Championship under her belt from Baylor. It's not quite the same thing, obviously, but she has been under this kind of microscope before. Her mental focus and her mental toughness have been tested and she has responded.
Hughes' San Antonio Mosaic
Coach/GM Dan Hughes deserves credit on a number of levels. Throughout his tenure in the WNBA, he has been a defensive-minded coach. And he has sold this unit on playing defense, but he has also realized that there's a ton of offensive talent on his roster. He has been able to empower each member of his team -- both the players and the coaches -- to work to their strengths and get the most out of their abilities. It also speaks volumes about him as a coach and as a person that Hughes is secure enough to give (assistant coach) Brian Agler as much of a voice as he's had this year on the bench and in the locker room.
Defense Wins Championships
|All-Star forward Rebekkah Brunson will have to be a major presence in the post for Sacramento.|
|Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images|
But they're simply not good enough offensively. They don't have a dominant individual scorer who can go out, create her own offense and get shots under the duress of an expiring shot clock. That's not who they are and that's not how they win games. Do they have quality offensive players? Sure, they have two very solid shooters in Nicole Powell and Kara Lawson. They have one of the WNBA's best all-time passers in assists leader Ticha Penicheiro.
But if they're going to compete for another championship, it will be with their defense. And that starts with post presences Rebekkah Brunson and Yolanda Griffith. They have to be tough both physically and mentally on the box, they'll have to board with authority and they have to set a tone with their inside game.
Key Player of the Series: Kara Lawson
There will be times in this series where San Antonio puts runs together offensively, and Sacramento will have to find someone to put a halt to them. Nicole Powell has been pretty consistent in the scoring column, but I think Kara Lawson is really the key. She'll need to be at the high level she played at in the Finals last year for the Monarchs to have a good chance. And it's tough to be that consistent spark plug coming off the bench, but she'll have to be solid both as a decision-maker and as a shooter.
I think San Antonio comes out of this one. They have the home-court advantage and I think they're hungrier. Becky Hammon has been really motivated. Like most great players, I think she really took offense to being traded. And when a great player has a chip on her shoulder, that's a dangerous combination.