The Indiana Fever are thrilled that they no longer have to defend Tangela Smith. Coach Lin Dunn's team, though, still has to find a way to slow down one of Smith's former teammates in New York Liberty point guard Cappie Pondexter.
Meeting for the first time since last season's Eastern Conference semifinals, the Fever and Liberty open a home-and-home set Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Signed to a multiyear deal in the offseason following four years in Phoenix, Smith made a big splash in her Fever debut, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 16 points in a 65-57 home win over Chicago on Saturday.
Smith is fifth in WNBA history with 4,789 points.
"If Tamika (Catchings) and I are coming off pick and rolls or what not, the defense tends to have a lot of double-teams against us, so (Tangela) definitely loosens things up for us out there," guard Katie Douglas said after scoring a team-high 19 points.
"It's extremely nice to have somebody that has two championship rings (in 2007 versus Detroit and 2009 against Indiana), somebody that has just that poise, that leadership and the ability to stretch the defense out there."
That's exactly what Pondexter does. The three-time All-Star, acquired in March 2010 following four seasons with the Mercury, scored 23.3 points per game as New York and Indiana split four regular-season meetings last year.
She averaged 27.3 in the teams' three-game playoff matchup, scoring 30 in the 77-74 series-clinching victory.
Pondexter had 12 points and 11 assists, and Plenette Pierson scored 25 points with 10 rebounds as the Liberty opened 2011 with a 94-88 overtime road win over defending East champion Atlanta on Sunday.
New York forced overtime when backup forward Sidney Spencer hit her only shot of the game with 0.2 seconds left.
"It was a broken play," coach John Whisenant said after winning his Liberty debut. "We wanted to get it in to Plenette or Nicole (Powell), and it got deflected to Sidney Spencer."
The Liberty, trying to open 2-0 on the road for the first time since going 5-0 in their inaugural 1997 season, lost 75-67 in Game 2 of the semifinals in their last visit to Indianapolis on Aug. 29.
New York snapped a seven-game skid and 13-game road losing streak to the Fever in its last regular-season contest at Indiana, an 82-72 victory Aug. 3.
The Liberty host the Fever on Saturday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and will call it home for the next three seasons while Madison Square Garden undergoes renovations.