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Dream-Shock Preview

Sep 15, 2009 - 9:39 PM By DAN PIERINGER STATS Writer

Atlanta (18-16) at Detroit (18-16), 8:00 p.m. EDT

The Detroit Shock rebounded from a slow start to make the playoffs, where they hope their experience will help guide them to their fourth WNBA championship in seven years.

The Atlanta Dream will have to rely on something else entirely.

The No. 3 seed Shock begin their latest title defense in the opener of a best-of-three series Wednesday night when they host the second-seeded Dream, making their first postseason appearance in the franchise's second year of existence.

Detroit clinched its seventh consecutive playoff berth Thursday, then beat Chicago 80-69 in its regular-season finale Saturday night. For the reigning champs, the victory was the culmination of a dramatic turnaround from a 2-7 start during which long-time coach Bill Laimbeer resigned.

The Shock trailed by 19 at halftime before outscoring the Sky 58-28 in the second half to earn their ninth win in 11 games.

"We just wanted to come out and play hard," said Rick Mahorn, Laimbeer's replacement. "I didn't tell them much at halftime. They're a veteran team. They knew what needed to be done, and they did it in the second half."

Mahorn may rely heavily on that veteran leadership in the playoffs, but Dream coach Marynell Meadors doesn't have the same luxury. Atlanta improved from a 4-30 inaugural season to finish 18-16 this year.

Though it was an impressive turnaround, the Dream didn't finish the regular season strong. They dropped five of their last nine after losing forward Chamique Holdsclaw to a knee injury Aug. 20, including an 82-64 defeat at Washington in the regular-season finale Saturday night.

Holdsclaw, second on the team with 13.9 points per game, is questionable to return during the playoffs.

The emergence of Angel McCoughtry has helped Atlanta avoid a bigger letdown in Holdsclaw's absence. The rookie forward, drafted first overall out of Louisville, has averaged 18.5 points and shot 50.0 percent from the field in the 10 games since Holdsclaw got hurt.

McCoughtry had 19 points and a season-high 13 rebounds Saturday.

Three of these teams' four meetings this season were decided by five points or fewer. The Dream won the first three matchups before falling 87-83 in Detroit on Aug. 27. Deanna Nolan, the Shock's leading scorer at 16.9 points per game, scored 29 in that victory.

Iziane Castro Marques led five Atlanta players scoring in double figures with 19. Erika de Souza had 16 points and 13 boards, one of her three double-doubles against Detroit this season.

The Shock, who have won three straight first-round series, went 11-6 at The Palace of Auburn Hills during the regular season.

Friday night's Game 2 and Sunday's Game 3 - if necessary - will not be played at the Dream's regular home venue in downtown Atlanta, where the team went 12-5. Philips Arena is booked by "Sesame Street Live," forcing the playoffs to Gwinnett Arena, about 25 miles northeast of Atlanta.

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