Sun's fate vs. Shock could hinge on Douglas

Updated: August 21, 2006, 10:25 PM ET

THE PLAYOFF DISH


Katie Douglas
Katie Douglas, who led the Sun with 16 points, will undergo an MRI on her right foot Monday. (Photo by AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Unfortunately, Katie Douglas' absence from the biggest series of the season could end up being the strongest argument in her favor for MVP.

The Sun dispatched the Mystics in an ugly 68-65 win on Sunday, but they're hoping the game didn't deal them a blow that could hasten the end of their own season when Douglas was forced from the court with a right foot injury in the closing moments.

With less than a minute to play and Connecticut looking to protect a six-point lead, Douglas stole the ball and went in for a layup attempt, drawing some contact but no foul. Somewhere between going up and coming down, something happened.

"I really can't -- I'll have to go back and watch it on film -- but it was definitely on the layup," Douglas said of the injury. "Something happened down there with my foot; it's non-diagnosed right now and just kind of give it some time and look at it tomorrow."

After a timeout following the play, Douglas returned to the court but almost immediately went to the side of the court and signaled that she couldn't continue.

"I just felt sharp pain," Douglas said. "It just felt like I was immobile out there. … I knew I needed to take myself out of the game."

Though nothing has been ruled out, Douglas said the pain felt like it was coming from the area of the heel and, perhaps most alarmingly, the Achilles.

Even on a night when everyone for the Sun suffered through abysmal shooting, Douglas came up with big shots despite shooting just 1-for-9 from behind the arc. Already nursing a sore right calf -- which Douglas believes to be unrelated to the foot injury -- that forced her to wear a protective sleeve, she also continued playing her typically outstanding defense, without which the Sun might be preparing for a Game 3 on Tuesday.

The Sun are as balanced a team as there is in the league, but there is no doubt that Douglas has emerged this season as the player most likely to carry the offensive load for a stretch or even an entire game. Connecticut has won with Lindsay Whalen at less than 100 percent, without Taj McWilliams-Franklin for short stretches and without Nykesha Sales for a long stretch.

But beating Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals without Douglas might be a task too tough even for this team. In a system that stresses balance over bold individual statements, Douglas may have to be missing to be truly appreciated.

Among the most stoic players off the court, having confronted more than her fair share of adversity in life, Douglas lives up to the image of the been-there, seen-that veteran. But standing on crutches in front of a bank of tape recorders long after the game had ended, she appeared to be fighting a great deal of emotion when asked to sum up the disappointment of the injury.

"I don't want to jump to any conclusion right now," Douglas said. "I just want to celebrate as much as we can tonight and, you know, say a lot of prayers and see what happens tomorrow."

She won't be the only one asking for a favor from above.



NOTABLE NUMBER
4 The one thing I couldn't understand is why Seattle's Lauren Jackson took just four shots Sunday. What's even more unbelievable -- and a big reason the Sparks were able to come back and beat the Storm -- is that with the game on the line, Jackson didn't take a single shot from the field in the pivotal fourth quarter.

Jackson averaged 12 field-goal attempts per game in the regular season. She's an MVP-caliber player. She must be the focal point of Seattle's offense. But on Sunday, she barely got any touches, finishing 3-for-4 from the field and 6-of-8 at the foul line for 13 points. Seattle's guards -- it seemed that reserve Edwige Lawson was really the only player to consistently look for Jackson -- need to do a better job of finding Jackson and recognizing when she has gone a significant number of trips down the court without a touch. That has never been a major problem before, and Jackson is certainly used to getting open when double-teamed. But Jackson simply needs to have the ball in her hands at the crucial times in a game.

In the studio, we initially thought L.A. would be in trouble with Chamique Holdsclaw sidelined for all but two minutes with an injury sustained in Game 1. That's 15 points and 6.1 rebounds per game the Sparks would have to replace. That ended up not being a factor as Jessica Moore (six points), Mwadi Mabika (17 points), Tamara Moore (10 points) and Christi Thomas (10 points) all made up for the slack as they each improved on their regular-season scoring averages.

L.A.'s zone defense also really hurt Seattle. Said Seattle coach Anne Donovan: "When [L.A. coach Joe Bryant] went to the zone we stopped moving the ball. You can't have nine assists against a team that plays zones for three-quarters of the game and expect to get it done. We need to do a better job on offense waiting for the right shot."

And once again, the Storm's defense was a liability. They play good team defense, but individually Seattle's players are not good on-ball defenders. L.A. is more athletic, and when Lisa Leslie got more aggressive and Mabika started slicing through the lane, you saw some definite flaws in the Storm defense.

It's tough to make a prediction for Game 3. At times in this series, both teams have persevered and gotten it done. In others, they've made poor turnovers and gotten sloppy in the clutch. So which cast of characters will show up Tuesday?
-- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE EAST

If Connecticut is going to reach the WNBA Finals for a third consecutive season, the Sun will need to do something they haven't been able to accomplish since Sept. 2, 2005: beat the Shock.

It's never too early to look ahead now that the Eastern Conference finals are set. And though the Sun are no doubt concerned about Katie Douglas' availability after a right foot injury sustained late in Sunday's game, the Sun should also be worried about facing their next opponent.

At the end of the regular season, Connecticut had clinched the East's top seed -- and just as importantly, the best record in the league. Quite simply, most experts tabbed the Sun the team to beat this postseason.

Enter Detroit. The Shock went 3-0 vs. Connecticut, which didn't lose multiple games to any other team this season and has lost just eight games all summer. Why have the Shock been so successful? In a word, rebounding.

Though poor 3-point shooting (27.1 percent, or 13-for-48) also has hindered the Sun in the series, Detroit's ability to dominate the glass is probably the biggest X-factor. Right now, Detroit is playing with a lot of energy and effort and getting tremendous competitive play on the inside. When the Shock get on the glass, they take away the opponent's ability to run. And for as well-balanced as Connecticut is -- six players averaged at least 9.0 points in the regular season -- the Sun do struggle when you force them into being a half-court basketball team. And that's where that aforementioned shooting from downtown really digs in to hurt, though Connecticut's regular-season 3-point average was slightly better at 34 percent.

In their three meetings this season, Detroit notched a plus-10 rebounding margin over Connecticut, grabbing 17 more boards than the Sun (50-33) in the first game back in May.

And keep in mind that the Sun's inability to beat the Shock isn't new. Dating back over the past four regular seasons, including Detroit's run to the 2003 title, the Shock are 11-4 vs. the Sun. And while holding a slight edge in points per game and field-goal accuracy in the series, Detroit also averaged 40.8 rpg to Connecticut's 33.7

That could continue to be a problem for the Sun, especially with Detroit rolling into the East finals with tremendous confidence.
-- ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE WEST

Has your summer flown by?

Doesn't everyone always say that every year? However, it hasn't been that way for Sacramento coach John Whisenant.

"It seems like this season has been going on for a year," Whisenant said last week during a WNBA teleconference.

Whisenant lost his mother in June, was a candidate for the Sacramento Kings' job and dealt with various injuries/illnesses/life situations with his players during the Monarchs' still-ongoing attempt to repeat as WNBA champions. He even missed the wedding of his youngest son, Justin, to attend the Monarchs' season opener back in May.

And there were times, understandably, when he felt close to being overwhelmed.

"I knew it was going to happen," Whisenant said of his mother's passing, but added that, like anyone who has lost a loved one to sickness knows, there really is no such thing as being fully prepared.

"It was hard to keep my focus," he said in one of those euphemistic understatements you're not surprised to hear from a man in his 60s, trying to live up to the perceived expectation that he's supposed to be able to handle anything with stoicism. "I had to [wonder] whether my situation in the early part of the season affected me mentally as far as being a leader to this group. I've tried to fight through all of that."

Seattle coach Anne Donovan was up next on the teleconference and had listened in to Whisenant, whose Monarchs will play either L.A. or Seattle in the West finals.

"I ache for him, knowing what kind of toll that takes," Donovan said. "I give him credit getting through the season dealing with that loss. I think our emotional roller coaster [in Seattle] pales in comparison to that."

She was, of course, referring to the multiple injuries the Storm have dealt with and the concerns about the franchise's future in Seattle under new ownership. But Donovan also does know what it's like to grieve the loss of a parent throughout a season; her mother died in January 2004 -- the year the Storm won the WNBA title. And last year, Connecticut coach Mike Thibault lost his mother during the season. More …
-- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel



PLAYER OF THE NIGHT
Mwadi Mabika, L.A.
Lisa Leslie and the Sparks got the best of Lauren Jackson on Sunday. But it was Mwadi Mabika who ignited L.A. past Seattle to force Game 3 (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET Tuesday). Mabika doubled her regular-season scoring average with 17 points, tying Leslie for team-high honors. In Mabika's best scoring effort since July 1, she scored seven unanswered points in a pivotal 9-1 run to cut Seattle's lead to 40-33 at halftime, then added nine points in the third quarter as L.A. took the lead. The Storm couldn't keep up with Mabika's drives inside the lane, and as Nancy Lieberman said of the Sparks' 5-foot-11 guard, "L.A. wouldn't have won without her."

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
We're not ready to go to the beach yet.
Sparks coach Joe Bryant, when asked what he told his team at halftime and the Sparks trailing 40-33
SALES SLIPS
UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Having missed a layup just minutes before and a short jumper just seconds before, Nykesha Sales raised her hands to the sky in mock relief when she finally dropped a shot and drew an opportunity for a three-point play in the first half of Sunday's game against Washington.

It proved to be a short respite.

Sales finished the game with just that one field goal on 10 shots, meaning she hit just one of 17 field-goal attempts in the two-game series, a shooting percentage that almost necessitates a scientific calculator.

But coach Mike Thibault was quick to point out that one of the league's more versatile players hasn't let her shooting slump impact the rest of her game.

"She's not shooting the ball real well right now, but she did a lot of other things," Thibault said after the game. "She did help us in other ways. She'll get through it. Somehow when we need it most, she'll step up and make big shots."

While rust after a long injury layoff has to be a concern, Sales did shoot a respectable 44 percent in the final four games of the regular season, her first action in more than a month after leaving the lineup with hip and Achilles injuries. And considering she finished Sunday's game with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals, it's tough to question her mobility and stamina.

That's good news for the Sun, because if Katie Douglas' injury turns out to be serious, that time Thibault mentioned will be Thursday night in Detroit. -- Graham Hays

SHE NOSE TOO MUCH
Storm guard Sue Bird was taken to Centinela Hospital Medical Center and awaiting the results of a CT Scan on Sunday night after possibly breaking her nose. Bird suffered the blow when she caught an elbow in the third quarter and the Sparks leading 51-47.

Bird, of course, has twice broken her nose on the court since 2004, which means …

"Fortunately, we travel with her mask just in case," Seattle coach Anne Donovan said, adding, "She's feeling like she broke it again."

But "don't count out Sue Bird" if the nose ends up broken, warns Nancy Lieberman, who's quick to remember that Bird had 10 points and a then-WNBA playoff record 14 assists in a Game 3 victory to eliminate Minnesota in the first round of the 2004 playoffs -- less than 24 hours after undergoing surgery to reposition the broken nose. The Storm went on to win the WNBA title the following week.

FOOT HOLDS BACK HOLDSCLAW
Sparks coach Joe Bryant said that he hopes forward Chamique Holdsclaw will be ready to go on Tuesday. Hampered by plantar fasciitis, Holdsclaw played only two minutes on Sunday, going 0-for-1 from the field and dishing out one assist.

"It'll be a game-day decision," Bryant said.

Holdsclaw joked that the injury was ruining her "pimp step," but was serious in describing how sitting out has taken a toll.

"It's hard, but I have a lot of confidence that they can get it done," she said. "I keep cheering them on from the sidelines saying, 'I need some more time, I need another chance.' So they played great today and that's what it is all about. If you can't get it one way, you have to cheer on your teammates and get it another way." -- Miki Turner

COMPLETE SCHEDULE
For a complete look at the schedule, previous results and upcoming games, click here.

Playoff Dish archive:
Aug. 19: Bench helps Monarchs press on
Aug. 18: Douglas goes Hollywood
Aug. 17: Shock guards steal show