Lawson to start in place of Penicheiro

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento Monarchs guard Ticha Penicheiro suffered a sprained left ankle during practice Tuesday and likely will not play in the WNBA's Western Conference Finals, reports ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman.

"We are 100 percent sure Ticha will not play Thursday [in Game 1]," Sacramento coach John Whisenant told Lieberman on Wednesday. "And it's 99 percent that she will not be back in the series."

Penicheiro, the WNBA's career leader in assists, averaged 11 points, 7.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds in the Monarchs' first-round victory over Los Angeles, and, according to Lieberman, is "playing some of her best basketball" since joining the league eight years ago.

Penicheiro suffered the injury on the last play of Tuesday's practice when she landed on a teammate's ankle. X-rays were negative, but Penicheiro still isn't bearing weight on the ankle and continues to use crutches, Lieberman said.

The Monarchs open the conference finals on the road against Houston on Thursday night, with Game 2 scheduled in Sacramento on Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, on Sunday.

Penicheiro was expected to guard Houston's Sheryl Swoopes, one of the leading MVP candidates who notched the first triple-double in WNBA playoff history Saturday as the Comets eliminated the defending champion Seattle Storm.

Insteach, Kara Lawson will start and match up defensively with Houston point guard Dominique Canty. Sacramento rookie Chelsea Newton -- who would have guarded Canty if Penicheiro hadn't gotten hurt -- will defend Swoopes, Whisenant told Lieberman. Lawson, who was hampered by injuries in the regular season, has started just one game in 24 appearances with Sacramento this summer. Newton has started all 36 games.

In addition to losing Penicheiro's experience, Lieberman expects the injury to affect Sacramento's game plan.

"With the way they play, the Monarchs use a four-guard rotation, but their playoff roster includes more back-up posts than guards," Lieberman said. "When playoff rosters were due, they had to make sure to activate another big instead of a guard in case post DeMya Walker, who has been out with a knee sprain, wasn't able to come back."

Penicheiro's absence leaves Sacramento with five legitimate guards -- Lawson, Newton, Kristin Haynie, Nicole Powell and Erin Buescher -- though guard/forward Hamchetou Maiga can slide to the backcourt, too.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.