3:30 PM ET, June 14, 2008
While the Detroit Shock seem to have many of the pieces in place for a return to the WNBA finals, the Phoenix Mercury are missing two key contributors that helped them win it all last year.The new-look Mercury (2-5) play host to the Shock (7-3) on Saturday night for the first time since Phoenix beat Detroit to win the title.In a finals that pitted the league's top teams in each conference, the Mercury and Shock alternated wins and losses, with Phoenix defeating Detroit 108-92 on the road in the decisive fifth game Sept. 16.Finals MVP Cappie Pondexter had 26 points and 10 assists and Diana Taurasi chipped in with 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Mercury.However, Penny Taylor -- who led all scorers in that game with 30 -- is not playing in the WNBA this year, choosing to stay in her native Australia to prepare for the Olympics. She averaged a career-high 17.8 points last season and 19.3 during the playoffs.Also missing from the Mercury is coach Paul Westhead, who resigned two weeks after winning the championship to join P.J. Carlesimo's staff with the Seattle SuperSonics. Using Westhead's run-and-gun style, the Mercury averaged a league-leading 89.0 points in the regular season, and 95.8 in the playoffs.Under new coach Corey Gaines, the Mercury again lead the league with 85.1 points per game, but their high-scoring ways haven't paid the same dividends so far this year. Phoenix opened 4-1 in 2007, but lost four straight to start this season and are second-to-last in the West.The Mercury won two in a row by beating Washington and Los Angeles, but fell 83-77 at Seattle on Wednesday.Taurasi, named Western Conference player of the week Monday, scored a season-high 37 points and hit seven 3-pointers. The stellar performance, though, meant little to her."When you don't win a game you think you should win, or are close to winning, it really doesn't matter what you do individually," she told the Mercury's official Web site.Pondexter scored 18 points and leads the league with 25.6 per game, just ahead of Taurasi (25.1).Detroit is in second place in the Eastern Conference behind Connecticut, but will wrap up a four-game road trip by trying to avoid a third straight loss.Eastern Conference player of the week Katie Smith scored 16 points and Plenette Pierson added 11 and a team-record six blocks Wednesday, but the Shock fell 80-73 to Los Angeles."The effort was there but we didn't play smart enough," said coach Bill Laimbeer, who guided Detroit to championships in 2003 and 2006.Shock forward Cheryl Ford averaged a double-double in each of her last two seasons but is scoring just 6.6 points per game this year. She does lead the team with 8.3 rebounds a contest.Detroit swept Phoenix in the regular season in 2007, while the Mercury won both meetings in 2006.