Dream face defending champions in opening round
Shock host Atlanta in WNBA playoffs

The Atlanta Dream pulled off the biggest turnaround ever in the WNBA, going from a 4-30 expansion nightmare to a playoff team in one season.

Now comes the really frightening part, though.

The Dream - forced to the Arena at Gwinnett Center because of a scheduling conflict at Philips Arena - must face the defending champion and red-hot Detroit Shock in the opening round.

The best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinal begins at 8 p.m. today at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., and then moves to Gwinnett. Game 2 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Game 3, if needed, is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Atlanta and Detroit both finished with 18-16 records, but the Dream got the extra playoff game in a tiebreaker after going 3-1 against the Shock during the regular season.

The Atlanta loss came in the team's final meeting as Detroit won nine of its last 11 games after a dismal start that saw Bill Laimbeer step down as coach.

The Gwinnett Arena seats about 10,500, nearly identical to the configuration for the Dream at Philips Arena, which was already booked for Sesame Street Live this weekend.

The Dream already had a Gwinnett County connection after moving its practices to the Suwanee Sports Academy this year and the Gwinnett Arena, which is more cost efficient than Philips Arena, could be a potential future home for the team. Owner Ron Terwilliger has put majority interest in the franchise up for sale.

Most tickets for the Dream's home games are $20 or $10, with select courtside seats costing $75. Tickets are available online at WNBA.com, by phone (1-877-WNBA-TIX), at the Gwinnett Arena and through Ticketmaster outlets.

Atlanta went 11-6 in the second half of the season despite losing Chamique Holdsclaw to a knee injury. The former Tennessee All-American and Olympic standout joined the Dream in a WNBA comeback this season.

With Holdsclaw (13.9) out, more of the scoring load fell to Iziane Castro Marques (14.4), Sancho Lyttle (13.0) and rookie Angel McCoughtry (12.8). Erika de Souza is the top rebounder at 9.1 per game.

Detroit is led by former Georgia standout Deanna Nolan, who averages 16.9 points per game. Katie Smith scores 13.7 for the Shock, which has won three of the past six WNBA titles.

The entire series will be nationally televised, with the first and last game scheduled for ESPN2 and the middle game for NBA TV.

Indiana (22-12) finished first in the East and Phoenix (23-11) led the West this season. Indiana plays Washington (16-18) in the opening round, while Phoenix is matched with San Antonio (15-19). The other series in the West is Seattle (20-14) against Los Angeles (18-16).

SideBar: WNBA Playoffs

Who: Atlanta Dream vs. Detroit Shock

What: Eastern Conference semifinals


· Game 1 - Dream at Shock, 8 p.m., ESPN2

· Game 2 - Shock at Dream, 7:30 p.m., NBA TV

· Game 3 - Shock at Dream*, 3 p.m., ESPN2

* If necessary