With Janell Burse out for the Storm, Wendy Palmer could match up with Mercury All-Star Penny Taylor down low.
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Detroit at New York
• Series preview
With the defending champs and consensus top team in the league taking on a squad most were expecting to be in the lottery just a couple of weeks ago, this seems like a David vs. Goliath sort of matchup. But Shock coach Bill Laimbeer knows the Liberty will come into the series with nothing to lose.
"Any team concerns you, no matter who it is," he says. "The WNBA is strong top to bottom. You have to bring your best game every night to win, and if we don't we're going to put ourselves at risk to be beaten."
But the Shock remain the top candidate to repeat because of their personnel: All-Star guard Deanna Nolan, all-time great Katie Smith, veteran forward Swin Cash, arguably the league's best off the bench in Plenette Pierson and possibly big post Cheryl Ford, who is hoping to return at some point in the series after missing 19 games this season with an injured knee. Katie Feenstra and Kara Braxton have performed well down low, but Ford's presence gives Detroit's lineup an extra jolt.
"Obviously, with her, we are a better basketball team," says Laimbeer. "If she is able to play, I will start her, no question about it."
Despite their mediocre 16-18 mark in the regular season, the Liberty split their season series with the Shock 2-2, winning once in Detroit. But New York coach Pat Coyle is wary of coming in overconfident.
"We don't put much stock into it," she says. "It's the regular season, and the playoffs are a whole different animal. The intensity, everything is at such a higher level during the playoffs."
New York's three-point shooting is a key in this matchup. If Erin Thorn, Loree Moore and Cathrine Kraayeveld can hit from long range, the Liberty have a much better shot of staying with the higher scoring Shock.
The Liberty also enter the series with considerably less playoff experience than the Shock, but that youthful, loose attitude could help them. There are no expectations on them, no pressure to beat the defending champs. And with Janel McCarville being quicker and more mobile than the Detroit posts, her second-half improvement could well continue into the first round.
Phoenix at Seattle
• Series preview
These teams know each other very well, whether from playing together in college, overseas or previously in the WNBA. Another thing they share besides a common history is an ability to score: they are the two highest scoring teams in the league. In fact, they played a 111-101 game earlier this month in which Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter combined to score 52 points and the Mercury LOST.
This will be Taurasi and Pondexter's first playoff appearances as pros, so the experience factor could be working against them at the start. But don't expect it to make much of a difference as Phoenix comes in as one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 11 of their final 12 games. But their heat on the court isn't of the dry variety indigenous to parts of Arizona. They can rain threes and they can go inside to fellow All-Star Penny Taylor and Tangela Smith.
But wherever they're shooting from, they'll be running, running, running. While coach Paul Westhead's up-tempo style hasn't won him a title in either the men's or women's game since 1980, his first year with the Lakers, this season seems different.
"We're pretty well conditioned to play that speed game," says Westhead. "If the pace of the game is so quick that it seems to be affecting your team, you have to wonder what it's doing to the opposition. … I think if we play faster, it might be to our advantage."
Defense is not the Mercury's strongpoint, but they'll no doubt focus their efforts on stopping Seattle's MVP candidate Lauren Jackson, who led the league in both scoring and rebounding. Jackson is capable of 30-plus points and 10 boards every night, but she'll be happy to share the wealth with All-Star Sue Bird, veteran Betty Lennox and up-and-coming wing Iziane Castro Marques.