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Plenette Pierson keeps Tulsa pointed toward playoff berth

When Tulsa coach Fred Williams came in for practice on Monday, he could have found his Shock players far less than revved up to be there. That would be understandable.

The Shock have lost nine games in a row, including Sunday's 98-90 defeat at home to the Eastern Conference's last-place team, Atlanta. Tulsa's most recent victory was July 11. The Shock players reasonably could be wondering when (if?) this skid is going to end. And yet ...

"I walked in the building this morning and heard all these weights banging and people making noise," Williams said. "The whole damn team is in there working out, getting after it. That just says volumes about how much this team wants to get there."

The Shock are seeking, of course, their first playoff appearance since the franchise moved to Tulsa in 2010. It would also be their last, since the team is relocating to Dallas when this season ends. And as bizarre as it seems for a team that hasn't won a game in a month, right now the Shock are still very much a playoff contender, sitting in third place in the West at 10-13.

So the Shock definitely still believe they can do this postseason thing. And Plenette Pierson's leadership is one of the reasons they believe.

"That has helped tremendously," said Williams, who's in his second season with the Shock. "She's a player that's been through a lot of situations. For her to really take this team under her wing and fight through a lot of things -- both through the wins and the losses -- she's really gotten everybody together. I couldn't have picked a better person to come in and help me keep this team going."

That's been far from a simple task. There were forward Glory Johnson's off-court issues and her announcement that she was pregnant and would sit out this season. There was an eight-game winning streak that was snapped after star guard Skylar Diggins' season-ending ACL tear on June 28. Other injuries include guard Odyssey Sims' knee strain, which she is now playing through.

Center Amanda Zahui B, the Shock's top 2015 draft pick at No. 2 overall, has averaged less than 10 minutes a game and is still adjusting to the pace of pro ball and the demands of player-to-player defense. And there was the announcement in July that the Shock will be leaving Tulsa for Dallas when this season was over.

That makes for distractions aplenty, but Pierson has been a calming presence. Pierson is in her 12th full season in the WNBA -- she missed all but one game in 2009 due to a shoulder injury -- and just made her first All-Star appearance in July. As Williams said, she's experienced it all in the WNBA -- good and bad.

A 6-foot-2 post player, Pierson is averaging 13.0 points and 4.6 rebounds for the Shock. She's one of four Tulsa players -- along with Riquna Williams (16.0 PPG), Sims (13.0) and Karima Christmas (10.3) -- who's averaging double-figures scoring. Pierson has started every game and plays nearly 30 minutes a contest.

"I love it; it's something I'm very passionate about," Pierson said of why she's still going strong in basketball. "There's no other way to express how I feel about it.

"You know, with everything that's happening in Tulsa -- it's just a part of the business. At least there is another city to go to and still have the team. We want this league to prosper."

Which is meant as no offense to Tulsa but is just the pragmatic way to look at it. Pierson has a big-picture view of the WNBA because she's been a part of it for so long.

"For her to really take this team under her wing and fight through a lot of things ... she's really gotten everybody together. I couldn't have picked a better person to come in and help me keep this team going." Tulsa coach Fred Williams, on Plenette Pierson

She was a key spark plug off the bench for two championship teams in Detroit (2006 and '08). Then she was one of the few players from Detroit who actually showed up in Tulsa when the franchise moved.

It took Pierson about five minutes to realize how badly the Nolan Richardson-as-Shock coach/general manager experiment would go. After eight games in Tulsa in 2010, she was traded to New York, and was with the Liberty through last season. Then she signed as a free agent with Tulsa, a veteran player hoping to help a veteran coach bring along a team with several young, still-developing players.

Let's get this out of the way, though: Yes, Pierson has had her kind of, um, "Wrestlemania" moments in the league. There was the 2007 WNBA Finals dust-up with Phoenix's Penny Taylor. In 2008, there was the tangle with Los Angeles' Candace Parker that turned into an on-court brawl between the Shock and the Sparks.

In Detroit, Pierson seemed to be doing exactly what then-Shock coach Bill Laimbeer wanted, which was to play physical right up to the line of acceptable ... and maybe just a bit over.

That's all more or less water under the bridge now. Pierson looks back on things like that, and the season she sat out while at Texas Tech, and understands how much she grew from all her experiences. She will turn 34 at the end of this month and by all accounts has been a stabilizing force for the Shock.

"I lead vocally, but I also just come out to practice hard every day," Pierson said. "I think younger players need to hear what this franchise has done in the past and what my experiences were when we won championships in Detroit. They're willing to learn, that's the biggest thing."

Williams said Pierson's voice on court in both practice and games has been very important to the Shock. And that's going to be crucial down the stretch.

Even if Tulsa is passed by the ascending Sparks -- who at 7-15 now have Parker and Alana Beard back -- the Shock just need to stay in front of San Antonio (7-16) and Seattle (5-17). Although, obviously, that means putting an end to the victory drought -- and soon.

As for Pierson, she says one of the biggest keys is that she's been fully healthy this year. And she credits the young standouts on the team, especially the injured Diggins, with helping rejuvenate her.

Whether the Shock can flip the switch and get back to winning remains to be seen. But Pierson has accomplished something in helping keep the Shock thinking positively when so much has pointed in a negative direction.

"She has that real high basketball IQ," Williams said. "She knows how to take charges, is always aggressive going to the boards. And she talks basketball to her teammates. She communicates, gets a lot of things across and is able to keep them in high spirits."