WNBA rivalry rekindled for top two teams in Western Conference

Lynx-Mercury clash is rich in stars, story lines.

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Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson (32) goes up to the basket against Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) and forward Candice Dupree in the second half of a WNBA basketball game, Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Minneapolis. The Lynx won 75-67. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

Photo: Stacy Bengs, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

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A season later, Seimone Augustus still hears about it.

The Lynx were in the fourth quarter of a Western Conference finals opening-game victory over Phoenix at Target Center when, near midcourt. Mercury guard Diana Taurasi passed the ball, then gave Augustus a little shove. Augustus turned and glared. Taurasi then slammed her shoulder into Augustus. The two were face to face when Taurasi leaned over and gave Augustus a peck on the cheek.

“It was either throw a punch or get a kiss,” Augustus joked this week.

If you’re looking for a way to describe the intense and sometime tempestuous relationship between these two teams, that is the moment: Love. Hate.

When the two teams meet again in the Western Conference finals starting Friday in Phoenix, it will be the third time in four years that the Lynx and Mercury have faced one another at this point. Among the 10 starting players are six players who were named to this summer’s All-Star Game, four members of the 2012 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team and two MVPs (Taurasi in 2009 and Maya Moore of the Lynx this year).

These teams have a lot of respect and admiration for one another. But there is no better rivalry in this league.

“I’m sure they’re good people,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “These guys know each other from playing overseas and stuff. But it’s on now.”

Before this season the Lynx, including playoffs, had won 14 straight games against Phoenix. But this year, one season after many tabbed the Mercury as the next big thing, things changed. With a stellar starting lineup and perfect health, the Mercury set a WNBA record with 29 regular-season wins, including three in four games against a Lynx team that battled health issues much of the year.

This is the series WNBA fans have been waiting for. The Lynx have won two of the past three WNBA titles, including last season, and this season won 25 games for a fourth straight season, another league record. Phoenix and Minnesota ranked 1-2 during the season in scoring, scoring differential, offensive efficiency and shooting percentage.

“This is probably the biggest matchup, that people have been expecting, since I’ve been in the league,” Augustus said. “It’s kind of been brewing like gumbo. It’s been cooking up, getting the flavors together. Now we’re at the point where we’re ready to taste it.”

Lynx finally healthy

The seeds of this rivalry go way back, to when Taurasi’s team beat Augustus’ in an AAU tourney. They’ve been both opponents and U.S. teammates since then.

Many of the other players have similar intertwined backgrounds in Europe and on national teams, in addition to the WNBA.

The Lynx have the reigning MVP in Moore, fellow All-Stars in Lindsay Whalen and Augustus and a coach who has two WNBA titles. The Mercury has Taurasi, defensive player of the year Brittney Griner, All-Star Candice Dupree and coach of the year Sandy Brondello, who, in her first year, turned the Mercury from an all-offense outfit into a group of the most efficient defenders in the league.

“It’s a challenge we feel ready for,” Reeve said. “The way we’re playing now, I think, is the best of the season, in terms of our ability to compete with a team that had a record-breaking season. … They established themselves as the best team in the league for the regular season. And now we’ll see what we can do.”

There are reasons for Minnesota’s optimism.

Augustus is feeling as good as she has all year after missing 10 games with knee soreness. Forward Rebekkah Brunson, the team’s best defender, missed the first 23 games after knee surgery. A middle-of-the-pack defensive team over the course of the season, the Lynx were the third-most-efficient team over the final half of the season.

“We feel we’re the team to beat,” Moore said. “Of course, Phoenix had an awesome season, setting records, playing well. Take nothing away from what they’ve done. I just think our team is always confident to feel we are in control of our destiny if we come and play together.”

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  • WNBA Western Conference Finals preview

    Thursday August 28, 2014

    westernCONFERENCE FINALSLynx (27-9) vs. Phoenix (31-5)Game 1: 9 p.m. Friday at US Airways CenterGame 2: 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Target...

  • Seimone Augustus:Lynx star acknowledges teams’ love-hate rivalry.

  • Tongue-wagging Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi will be one of the protagonists in an intensity-laced Western Conference finals.

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Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 33 FINAL
Dallas 10
Seattle 0 1st Qtr 12:10
San Francisco 0
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 0 1st Prd 2:01
Nashville 0
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
FIU 53 FINAL
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
San Diego 71 FINAL
Xavier 82
Illinois 88 FINAL
Indiana State 62
Cal State Fullerton 67 FINAL
Wright State 62
Western Ky 62 FINAL
Saint Josephs 59
Michigan State 77 FINAL
Rider 45
UCLA 59 2nd Half 9:33
North Carolina 38
Marquette 7:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Long Beach State 4 1st Half 16:28
Western Mich 4
Stephen F Austin 8:00 PM
Prairie View
UAB 8:30 PM
Florida
Rice 8:30 PM
Mercer
San Jose St 10:00 PM
Washington
Washington St 10:59 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Baylor 10:59 PM
Memphis
LSU 0 2nd Qtr 7:45
Texas A&M 7
(6) TCU 13 2nd Qtr 8:22
Texas 0
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
Wichita State 39 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
LSU 0
BYU 73 FINAL
BYU-Hawaii 52
Charlotte 58 FINAL
Montana 67
Illinois 77 FINAL
(9) Kentucky 71
Central Michigan 0 1st Half 20:00
Richmond 0
Oklahoma 3 1st Half 19:02
South Florida 2
Princeton 6 1st Half 16:31
Wake Forest 2
(19) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Butler

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