The Sun and Detroit Shock meet in a first-place battle in the East tonight at 7 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena (MyTV9, NBA TV). Some interesting story lines floating around one of the league's best rivalries, and a link to to another preview of the game:
(1) Detroit has won the last eight regular-season meetings, the last five overall and nine of the last 10, including the playoffs. The Sun's last win came in Game 2 of the 2006 Eastern Conference finals, a series they lost.
When told of Detroit's dominance Monday following practice, Tamika Whitmore asked, 'Really?' Of course, this is a totally new group of Connecticut players that haven't been beaten time and time again by Detroit.
More than anything, the Sun's season has had a feeling of renewal since the start: a chance to put all past failures behind them and try to walk through a new window of opportunity. That said, there really wasn't a feeling that the Shock had the Sun's number for the last two years despite the lopsided win-loss total. Most games were close (Detroit took the last year's series with victories of five, three, three and four points, respectively), and someone like Lindsay Whalen (18.8 points per game against Detroit last season) has had success against the Shock's star guards.
(2) Sun guard Kamesha Hairston continues to practice with the team, but has yet to come off the inactive list since undergoing surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus.
"As I told her, her job is to beat somebody out," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "We’re 10-3 and I don't know who to take out of the lineup until she proves that she’s supposed to be playing ahead of somebody. That's on her to make the most out of her practice minutes. She’s going to play every day head to head in competition against teammates whose spot she would like to take."
(3) Whitmore told an anecdote back at the team luncheon prior to the season that included Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer. The story goes that Larry Bird came to speak to members of the Indiana Fever before their Eastern Conference finals match-up with the Shock last season. Bird told Whitmore if she's taking the ball out of bounds near the Shock bench -- where Laimbeer is notorious for straddling the line of interfering with the inbounds play and coaching -- she should tell Laimbeer he's a "punk."
Whitmore did, and laughed about it Monday, saying, "It was just a psychological thing to try to get him out of his coaching game. It’s just all in good fun."
"Actually, Bill and I get along real good," she said. "We joke off the court. When I see him, we always speak to each other."
Whitmore actually had breakfast with Detroit assistant Rick Mahorn a little less than two weeks ago in L.A. after the Shock had played the Sparks on a Wednesday night and the Sun were preparing for Lisa Leslie and company for a Friday night game.
"So I really have a lot of respect and admiration for those guys," Whitmore said. "They were able to achieve something that I’ve been trying to get now for nine years (in a championship). I have respect for them, they’re a good team, they play well together. But we’re also a good team and we may be all new, but we’re gelling pretty good."
Whitmore, as far as interviews go, was on her game Monday. Brought in to bring some toughness to the Sun's frontline over the offseason, she was asked what her definiton of toughness is.
"Well, my mom’s 6-7," she said, "so when I started playing ball and she started taking me down to the courts back home to play against the guys, I got dragged across the concrete on my side and I got glass stuck on my side. I didn’t cry or anything because she just picked the glass out and put me back out there. So if that’s any definition of toughness, that’s the one I go by.
"Basically, it’s just don’t back down from any challenge," she continued. "If you have a challenge, just meet it head on. You can’t show fear, and that’s just what I’m focused on. I’m not afraid of anything — snakes, nothing."
Whitmore added that she enjoys playing Detroit -- traditionally one of the most physical teams in the league under Laimbeer -- because "You know you’re going to get hit. You just have to be the one that hits first."
"You have a lot of great players on that team," Whitmore said. "They have a championship, they know what it feels like to get one. This team has ever had one. I don’t think anyone on this team has ever had one on the professional level. We’re hungry. We have a big appetite for success, and we’re going to do what we have to do to get it."
(4) Barbara Turner may see her second straight start tonight, as she will most likely be used in the "committee" to guard Detroit's Deanna Nolan, who last time dropped 36 points on the Sun. Thus far, Turner has played her best ball in perhaps her entire career -- UConn included -- as she's averaging 10.7 points and 3.5 rebounds.
"I’m happy with how things have gone so far, but I think I still have a long way to go," Turner said. "I still have a lot of things I need to get better at it. I’m going to continue to work hard. I’m never satisfied. When you start to become satisfied, that’s when you start to lose greatness."
Lindsay Whalen was asked of the Turner's evolution as a scorer this season, to which the always witty guard replied, "The evolution of Barbara Turner … That’s a good one, I like that.
"She’s playing great, and we’re happy for her," Whalen continued. "We need her to keep being aggressive and taking shots. She’s obviously been a great player for us."
Turner, too, was acquired back in March because of the tough demeanor she plays with. Last week in Seattle, she went face-to-face with Lauren Jackson after the Australian star tried staring down Kerri Gardin, in turn defusing the situation even though it looked heated.
"Toughness is being smart," Turner said. "Detroit’s a very tough team and they do play physical, but you can’t get caught up in that. You have to be able to execute your game plan and come out and play within your team. When you go outside of yourself and you’re tying to be tough and you’re trying to throw extra elbows and do stuff that doesn’t really help our team, it’s not good."
As far as the Sun's rotation, if Turner doesn't start at small forward, which would be Amber Holt to shooting guard, Jolene Anderson could slide back into the two-guard spot (though she's looked more comfortable coming off the bench) or Thibault could go back to Kerri Gardin, whose defense continues to be good this season but she's struggled shooting the ball (29.3 percent on the season).
When asked, Thibault reiterated Monday that he doesn't expect Evina Maltsi in Connecticut this summer. If she had come, she would have been a natural fit into the shooting guard spot, allowing both Anderson, Turner and Jamie Carey to come off the bench, which would have given the Sun incredible depth between the backcourt and small forward position.
Alas, that's not the case, though Ketia Swanier has proven capable of stepping in at times, and the Sun still have Erin Phillips arriving after the Olympic break. Predicting who may be cut to make room for her is pretty pointless at the moment. Between possible injuries and certain players perhaps moving up the depth chart (think Hairston), it's difficult what move would make the most sense for the Sun.
(5) The Sun and Shock play twice this week (again on Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich.) and again on July 8, meaning their series concludes in the matter of 15 days. It's a quirky schedule, especially considering the Sun-New York Liberty series was decided within the first two weeks of the season.
"I really honestly haven’t though about Detroit until (Sunday)," Thibault said. "one of the things I’ve tried to do with this team — and I think I’ve followed my own lead — is don’t, look ahead. Now it’s here."
Of Detroit, Thibault feels they've only improved, especially because of the play of rookies Tasha Humphrey, who's established herself as the starting center and scored 28 points 10 days ago against Phoenix, and Alexis Hornbuckle, the hustle guard who leads the league in steals.
"No. 1, they’re getting healthier as they go," Thibault said. "Nolan and (Cheryl) Ford are getting healthier. Ford was not healthy for the majority of the playoffs (last year). She’s gotten better and better. She has back-to-back double-doubles now.
"Adding Hornbuckle and Humphrey has given them young talent that has fit in well with their team. It’s allowed them to sub different ways and play different match-ups. You bring a (Plenette) Pierson and (Kara) Braxton and a Hornbuckle off the bench, you’re pretty deep."
Here's the scout box for the game with projected starters. I took Kamesha Hairson out of the Injury report.
DETROIT SHOCK at CONNECTICUT SUN
7 p.m., today
Mohegan Sun Arena, Mohegan
Records: Connecticut 10-3; Detroit 10-3.
Last game: Connecticut won at Sacramento, 72-56, on Friday; Detroit won at Atlanta, 97-76, on Sunday.
Next game: Connecticut plays at Detroit Thursday.
TV/Internet: MyTV9, NBA TV/www.connecticutsun.com
Series: Detroit leads the all-time series, 22-16, and has won nine of the last 10 meetings between the two teams, including the last five. Connecticut’s last win came in Game 2 of the 2006 Eastern Conference finals, a 77-68 victory at home.
Injuries: Connecticut—None reported. Detroit—Elaine Powell (sprained left foot, day-to-day).
Scouting report: Detroit traded forward LaToya Thomas to Minnesota on Sunday in exchange for guard second-year guard Eshaya Murphy. Shock coach Bill Laimbeer envisioned Thomas playing the small forward position after trading for her during the offseason, but the former No. 1 overall pick struggled in limited minutes. … Detroit guard Deanna Nolan averaged 20.3 points in four games against Connecticut last year, scoring a then franchise-best 36 in a 92-88 win on July 24. Lindsay Whalen scored a career-high 33 points that night. … Nolan broke the franchise scoring mark with 44 points in Friday’s 98-93 overtime win over Minnesota. She was named the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week Monday … The Sun commit the fewest fouls of any team in the league (17.3 per game). The always-physical Shock, meanwhile, draw the most (23.8). ... When Lindsay Whalen, Tamika Whitmore and Asjha Jones all score in double figures, the Sun are 8-1. ... The Sun have made 97 3s through 13 games, putting them on pace to break the franchise record for 3s in a season with 195. Connecticut also set a new franchise record with 10 in the first half against Phoenix last week.
22 F Barbara Turner 10.7
15 F Asjha Jones 15.5
00 C Tamika Whitmore 13.8
13 G Lindsay Whalen 14.8
1 G Amber Holt 5.4
33 Jolene Anderson 6.4
7 Sandrine Gruda 5.3
10 Jamie Carey 3.1
30 F Katie Smith 16.4
35 F Cheryl Ford 8.3
34 C Tasha Humphrey 8.1
14 G Deanna Nolan 15.5
5 G Elaine Powell 5.0
23 Plenette Pierson 11.6
45 Kara Braxton 7.5
22 Alexis Hornbuckle 6.8