Series Preview: Atlanta Dream vs. Detroit Shock
By Mark Bodenrader,

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
You want contrast? Look no further than the Eastern Conference Semifinal series pitting the second-seeded Atlanta Dream against the third-seeded Detroit Shock. The Dream, in just their second year of existence, are making their first-ever appearance in the playoffs after posting an 18-16 record in the regular season, something that was thought to be impossible after they posted just four wins in their entire inaugural campaign. Their reward is an opening-round matchup with three-time WNBA champion Detroit, which is taking part in the playoffs for the seventh straight season and comes into the 2009 WNBA Playoffs white-hot and intent on defending its 2008 title.

Of course, as we all know by now, Atlanta has benefitted from a revamped roster put together by general manager and head coach Marynell Meadors, who added Chamique Holdsclaw, Michelle Snow, Angel McCoughtry, Sancho Lyttle and Shalee Lehning during the offseason. All have been major contributors for the Dream and quickly made Atlanta that dangerous team no one wants to play entering the playoffs. But it hasn't all been about the newbies. Erika de Souza has become one of the top centers in the WNBA, as this season she finished second in the league in rebounding (9.1 rpg) and double-doubles (11). Her matchup against Cheryl Ford, who plays a similar bruising style down low, should be an interesting one to watch in this series. Iziane Castro Marques has also upped her performance in 2009, having led her team in scoring (14.4 ppg) during the regular season.

Gm 1: at Detroit., Wed., 9/16, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Gm 2: at Atlanta, Fri., 9/18, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Gm 3*: at Atlanta, Sun., 9/20, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Atlanta will likely need Castro Marques and others to maintain their high level of play against Detroit if Holdsclaw is unable to suit up. Holdsclaw, who averaged 13.9 points in 25 games this year, has been out since August 20 with a knee injury and her status is uncertain for the series. McCoughtry, a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, has been starting in her place and doing a more than adequate job.

Despite the Holdsclaw setback, the Dream have been one of the stronger teams in the second half of the season, but Detroit is arguably the hottest team entering the playoffs, having won nine of its last 11 to finish the season with an identical record to that of the Dream (Atlanta owns the tie-breaker by virtue of winning the season series, 3-1). Not bad for a team that lost head coach Bill Laimbeer to resignation and forward Plenette Pierson to season-ending injury in June and started off the season 2-7. Fortunately, new coach and Laimbeer protege Rick Mahorn has his players believing in his philosophy and found a rotation that is clicking on all cylinders at the right time. Of course, it helps that star guard Deanna Nolan is just getting stronger as the season goes on, which seems to happen every year. It also helps that this Shock team has a lot of experience to draw upon, as its core includes Nolan, Ford, Taj McWilliams and Katie Smith, although Smith's status is also uncertain for Eastern Conference Semifinal because of lower back pain that has caused her to miss the team's last seven games. If Smith is unable to go, the Shock will likely have to rely more on outstanding rookie Shavonte Zellous, who has been a nice asset off the bench all season.

The 1-2 opening round format, in which the lower seed plays at home first, could be a huge factor here. If veteran-laden Detroit is able to capture the opener at home, where it has won six straight, it could give them the mental edge over an Atlanta team getting a taste of the playoffs for the first time ever as a group.

2009 Regular Season: Atlanta 3 - Detroit 1
Some fast facts about the first-round matchup:
  • Detroit snapped a three-game skid to Atlanta in their last meeting on August 27.
  • The Shock lead the all-time series, 4-3.
  • Atlanta is making its first trip to the playoffs, while Detroit is making its seventh straight and eighth overall.
  • Erika de Souza posted three double-doubles vs. Detroit this season.
  • Shavonte Zellous averaged 16.8 PPG vs. Atlanta this season.
  • Detroit has won three straight opening-round series.

Friday, June 26. Philips Arena. Atlanta, GA: Dream 96, Shock 86 | Box score | Highlights
Detroit Leaders: Shavonte Zellous (25 pts., 6 reb.), Katie Smith (20 pts.)
Atlanta Leaders: Chamique Holdsclaw (28 pts.), Erika de Souza (20 pts., 13 reb.)

Wednesday, July 22, Palace of Auburn Hills. Auburn Hills, MI: Dream 98, Shock 95 (OT) | Box score | Highlights
Atlanta Leaders: Ivory Latta (22 pts.), Angel McCoughtry (20 pts., 6 stl.)
Detroit Leaders: Kara Braxton (25 pts., 12 reb.), Shavonte Zellous (20 pts.)

Thursday, August 13, Philips Arena. Atlanta, GA: Dream 80, Shock 75 | Box score | Play
Detroit Leaders: Deanna Nolan (20 pts., 4 ast.), Katie Smith (17 pts.)
Atlanta Leaders: Iziane Castro Marques (16 pts.), Erika de Souza (15 pts., 13 reb.)

Thursday, August 27, Palace of Auburn Hills. Auburn Hills, MI: Shock 87, Dream 83 | Box score | Highlights
Atlanta Leaders: Iziane Castro Marques (19 pts.), Erika de Souza (16 pts., 13 reb.)
Detroit Leaders: Deanna Nolan (29 pts., 5 ast.), Shavonte Zellous (12 pts.)

See how the teams match up position by position
Alexis Hornbuckle, G, Shock
6.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.7 APG
Note: Shot 39 percent from three-point range.
Shalee Lehning, G, Dream
3.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.7 APG
Note: Made the most starts of any rookie (20).
Deanna Nolan, G, Shock
16.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG
Note: Led the Shock in scoring and assists.
Iziane Castro Marques, G, Dream
14.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.0 APG
Note: Led the Dream in scoring.
Katie Smith, F, Shock
13.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.8 APG
Note: Missed Detroit's last seven games with back injury.
Angel McCoughtry, F, Dream
12.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.1 APG
Note: Led all rookies in scoring and steals (2.2 spg).
Taj McWilliams, F, Shock
9.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.9 APG
Note: Playing in her 11th WNBA season.
Sancho Lyttle, F, Dream
13.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.5 APG
Note: Made a career-high 31 starts.
Cheryl Ford, C, Shock
8.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.9 APG
Note: Led the Shock in rebounding.
Erika de Souza, C, Dream
11.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.1 APG
Note: Finished second in the league in rebounding and double-doubles (11).