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Palace Prepares for Next Guard

September 16, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Tonight's deciding Game 3 of the WNBA finals will either be the extension of the league's old guard or the beginning of a new age.

In the Western corner stand the Sparks, who have won the last two WNBA championships, following the four in a row won by Houston. In the Eastern corner stands Detroit, arguably the best East team to contend for the championship since Houston won the league's inaugural 1997 title as an Eastern Conference team.

"Both teams are working with history right now," Spark Coach Michael Cooper said. "Detroit is trying to be the first [true] East team to win the championship. We're trying to be the first WNBA team to win a title on the road. So there's a lot going on."

The series is tied, 1-1. The Sparks won Game 1 at home Friday, 73-65, by dominating the first half, then holding off the Shock in the second half. Detroit almost followed the script to the letter in winning Game 2 here Sunday, dominating the first half, watching the Sparks take the lead late in the second half, then winning, 62-61, on two free throws by Deanna Nolan with 12.1 seconds left.

Tonight's championship at the Palace could represent a pivotal point in the league, which has been operating for seven years. The Sparks want a shot at equaling Houston's four-year reign. The Shock, the youngest team in the league, finished this season with the league's best regular-season record. A win tonight could propel Detroit to the league's next dynasty run.

"This would be special because in the beginning everyone thought [Coach] Bill [Laimbeer] was this big, arrogant Bad Boy who didn't know anything, and I was this naive Connecticut girl who thought she could win every single game," said Shock forward Swin Cash.

"For us to got from worst to first -- and I'm talking really worst to first -- would be tremendous."

Either way Game 3 will be a big moment for someone. Which is why both teams want to say they lived in the moment instead of getting caught up in it.

"I don't think, with this team, we've been caught up in the moment at all," said Laimbeer, whose team's regular-season record was 25-9 after being 9-23 a year ago. "We're living the moment, and that's been the best part of all of this. We live for what we're doing right now. We're having fun, we don't know any different, but we believe we're a team of destiny."

The Sparks' Tamecka Dixon said her team's experience from the last championship series has them in the moment.

"We've been here before, and we know what's expected of us," she said. "Since they don't know what to expect, they're going to rely on the first five to seven minutes feeding off the crowd's intensity, which they did Sunday. We just have to stay a little closer than we did in that first half here. When all that other stuff wears off, the game's still got to be played."

There are still some adjustments the teams can make. But coaches and players agree Game 3 will have more to do with will and desire than Xs and O's.

"Winning Game 2 was a definite turning point in our favor," Cash said. "For Game 3, we'll all be out there just laying it on the line. It will be physical game and a test to see who wants it the most. There's no time to think about what hurts; it's time to throw the ball up and play."


Spark center Lisa Leslie finished third in the regular-season MVP voting, announced Sunday. Seattle's Lauren Jackson won the MVP balloting of sportswriters and broadcasters, followed by Indiana's Tamika Catchings. Detroit's Cash was fifth.

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