Western conference Lynx (28-8) vs. Phoenix (21-16)
Game 1: 8 p.m. Thursday at Target Center • Game 2: 4 p.m. Sunday at Phoenix
Game 3 (if necessary): Tuesday at Target Center, time TBA • TV/radio: ESPN2, 106.1-FM for all games
Lynx: The Lynx won all five regular-season games with Phoenix by an average of 14 points. But the two teams haven’t played since July 24, and a lot of things have changed since then. This should be a fast-paced series, and the Lynx are as good at that as anybody. Maya Moore shot 45.8 percent overall, while averaging 19 points and seven rebounds vs. Phoenix this season. Seimone Augustus averaged 15 points on 59.3 percent shooting vs. the Mercury, while Lindsay Whalen averaged 13 points and 5.4 assists. After a shaky first half in the Lynx’s first playoff game, Moore recovered to shoot 12-for-18 from the field over the final three halves vs. Seattle. Moore is averaging 19.5 points per game in the playoffs, Rebekkah Brunson 16.5 points and 11 rebounds and Augustus 14.5 points. All three have shot better than 45 percent in the playoffs. Whalen, meanwhile, struggled with her shot in two games vs. Seattle (6-for-17), scoring just 13 points.
Phoenix: This is a changed Mercury team that emerged with a Game 3 victory in Los Angeles on Monday. Phoenix still finished last in the league in points allowed (80.3) in the regular season. But, under new coach Russ Pennell, the Phoenix has gone 11-5. The Mercury’s opponents averaged 84.7 points per game under former coach Corey Gaines. Under Pennell that number is 74.1. Star guard Diana Taurasi — who averaged 19.8 ppg vs. Minnesota this season, scored 50 points in three games vs. the Sparks. F Candice Dupree (16.0 ppg, 8 rpg) also played well vs. L.A. And rookie C Brittney Griner — who missed two of the five games vs. the Lynx this season, will only be more confident after hitting the game-winning shot vs. L.A. on Monday. Both teams do a good job scoring in the paint. Phoenix is one of the league’s best road teams; the Mercury was 9-8 on the road in the regular season and won two games in L.A. in the conference semifinals.
Season series: Lynx swept 5-0.
On a roll: The Lynx have won 10 games in a row vs. the Mercury in the regular season, and they swept the Mercury in two games in the 2011 Western Conference finals.
Injuries: Minnesota: None. Seattle: F Penny Taylor (knee) has been struggling to return from surgery all season, appearing in just 10 regular-season games. She returned to play in the first two games vs. L.A. but did not appear in Game 3.
Lynx in three games. Taurasi will do her damage and an improving Griner will be a factor, especially protecting the rim. But the Lynx will advance to their third finals in three seasons.
Atlanta (19-18) vs. Indiana (18-18)
Games: Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday (if necessary).
At a glance: These teams have a good bit of playoff history. Atlanta star Angel McCoughtry led the Dream past the Fever in the 2011 conference finals, scoring 26 points in Game 3. Last year Indiana returned the favor, winning Game 3 of the conference semifinals after holding McCoughtry to two points in the second half. The Fever, fresh off beating Chicago, is intent on a repeat of last season, when the team shook off key injures to beat the Lynx in the finals. The Fever has been without center Jessica Davenport all season, and appears to be without guard Katie Douglas through the rest of the playoffs. But with star Tamika Catchings leading the way, the Fever is clicking on offense and suffocating foes on defense. Indiana has won three consecutive playoff series in which it was the lower seed. G Shavonte Zellous (14.7 ppg) was named the league’s most improved player. For Atlanta, C Erika de Souza (12.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and G Tiffany Hayes (11.3 ppg) will have to step up to support McCoughtry, the league’s two-time scoring champion.
Prediction: Indiana in two games.