Dream offense on fire with Latta off the bench

Momentum Maker?

We told you to watch the fourth quarter, didn’t we?

The Shock’s dramatic comeback Tuesday at Washington - which turned a 12-point deficit in the third quarter into an 81-77 victory - has the potential to be the jumping-off point for even greater things.

The Shock have been staving attackers off since June, as opponents took advantage of a team scrambling to address injuries and the coaching transition from Bill Laimbeer to Rick Mahorn. If Detroit can carry momentum of their 35-point fourth quarter into Thursday’s game at Atlanta and come away with their third straight win - and fourth in five games - everyone will know that the Shock are no longer the hunted; they are once again the hunter.

Though not quite flawless - Shavonte Zellous, an 88 percent free-throw shooter, came up empty on a two-shot trip to the line leading 70-69 with only 1:52 left - the Shock made shots (10-of-14) and, more importantly, got stops when needed to down the stretch. Just four nights after Detroit’s 10-point, 2-of-14 shooting performance in the fourth quarter allowed the Mystics to escape the Verizon Center with a 70-66 victory, the Shock stole one right back.

Deanna Nolan led the charge with 23 points, Taj McWilliams had 17 points and 13 rebounds and Zellous finished with 16 points. Nolan was 10-for-18 from the field, including a difficult 15-footer that put Detroit ahead for good with 1:29 to play.

It was Nolan’s third game of the season with 10 or more field goals - and her second in the last four games. After an injury plagued two months to start the season, Nolan has reverted to the form that has made her a perennial All-WNBA selection. In August Nolan is averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals. She’s also shooting 43.5 percent, a considerable improvement from her 37.0 percent over June and July. (She’s a career 41.5-percent shooter.)

Nobody needed a big shooting night heading into Atlanta more than Nolan, who made only two of 14 shots in the team’s first visit to Philips Arena on June 26. In two games against the Dream this season, Nolan has made five shots and missed 29 - a 14.7 shooting percentage.

Nolan could find herself in a scoring duel Thursday against a former teammate, Ivory Latta, or Chamique Holdsclaw, Atlanta’s leading scorer.

Latta scored a season-high 22 points at The Palace when the Dream defeated Detroit in overtime, 98-95. Latta was 10-for-10 at the free-throw line and 5-for-5 from the field, including two triples. The Dream offense has been on fire since re-signing Latta, who was cut after training camp. The Dream have averaged 93.0 points over their last five games, the most in the WNBA. The Dream won the first four, a streak that began at The Palace.

Latta can't take all the credit, however. The Dream reserve scored 16, three, zero and 18 points in the four games since her July 22 outburst. Latta also scored her career high (26 points) last season against the Shock, which drafted her No. 11 overall in 2007 and traded her to Atlanta after the season.

Holdsclaw hung 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting June 26, and is averaging 15.8 points at Philips Arena, about two points higher than her season average. She is coming off one of her lowest scoring performances of the year, making just two of eight shots for four points in a home loss to Chicago.

Price is right for Atlanta; Chicago goes Young

Third-year guard Armintie Price didn’t fare so well against the Shock as a member of the Sky Sunday - maybe she’ll do better with the Dream Thursday. Price, who played 11 scoreless minutes in Chicago’s 64-58 defeat at The Palace, has been traded to the Dream for guard Tamera Young. Price will make her Atlanta debut Thursday against the Shock.

Though known more for her defense, Price’s production has diminished over the last two seasons after a strong rookie campaign, when she averaged 7.9 points and 6.0 rebounds in 2007. She’s averaging 3.5 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game this season.

The Dream stunned many observers on draft day 2008 by selecting Young with the No. 8 overall pick, ahead of local product Tasha Humphrey from the University of Georgia, who went to Detroit at No. 11.

The gamble did not pay off. Young shot 33 percent as a rookie, averaging 7.3 points. (Though she scored a career-high 26 at The Palace in a Shock victory.) Young could not carve out a niche after the Dream’s off-season overhaul, appearing in just 11 games this season, playing 6.5 minutes per game.