Nolan, Braxton help Shock wrap up Eastern Conference No. 1 seed

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Bill Laimbeer took care of the first of his annual goals Thursday night.

Every year, Laimbeer says that he wants his team to get home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference, then advance to the WNBA finals.

The Shock (21-12) clinched the East's top seed Thursday when they beat the Washington Mystics 78-66 and Connecticut lost at San Antonio.

"Now we can start working on things for the playoffs," said Deanna Nolan, who led the Shock with 17 points. "We need to start playing a little smarter -- understand when to run and when to slow it up depending on the situation."

After finishing the regular season Sunday in New York, the Shock will play fourth-seeded Indiana in the first round. Detroit has beaten the Fever in the postseason while advancing to the WNBA finals in each of the last two years.

Normally, with the top seed locked up, Laimbeer would rest his key players against the Liberty, but he isn't sure if he feels safe doing that this year. With a victory in New York, the Shock would clinch home-court advantage in a possible finals matchup with Los Angeles.

"We'd want to get home court against the Sparks if we could, so we may have to play that game normally," Laimbeer said. "We'll see how things work out."

The Mystics (10-22) have lost seven straight since beating Atlanta on July 25.

"We want to show improvement with every game," Washington coach Jessie Kenlaw said. "We set a goal that we want to play better as a team, and I feel like tonight we did that."

Kara Braxton had 15 points for Detroit, while Plenette Pierson scored 12, and Taj McWilliams-Franklin added nine points and eight rebounds.

Alana Beard led Washington with 16 points and Monique Currie added 14.

Rookie Tasha Humphrey, acquired from Detroit in an Aug. 12 trade for McWilliams-Franklin, finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.

"It was good to be back in Detroit -- the crowd was very welcoming, and it was good to see all my old coaches and teammates again," Humphrey said. "We knew Detroit was going to be difficult to beat. We just competed the best we could."

Laimbeer was impressed by Humphrey, one of Detroit's two first-round picks this spring.

"Tasha's a very good player -- it was very, very difficult for me to give her up," he said. "But we couldn't rely on that many rookies while trying to win a championship. We're all cheering for her."

After a close first period, Detroit took control by outscoring the Mystics 26-13 in the second. Braxton scored 11 points in the period and the Shock went 10-for-15 from the free-throw line while Washington didn't have a single attempt.

The Mystics pulled to 49-39 midway through the third quarter, but the Shock had the margin back to 17 by period's end and cruised to the comfortable win.

"They didn't have anything to lose and they played with a lot of energy," Nolan said. "It took us a while to get our focus back after halftime."