Outside threat is in the way
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS (BEST OF THREE): Lynx (25-9) vs. San Antonio (16-18)
Lynx: Minnesota won the first four games between the teams this season, two by 10 points or more, but San Antonio beat Minnesota 92-76 in the second-to last regular-season game, the Lynx’s most lopsided loss of the season. Against San Antonio, the key will be perimeter defense. The Stars have a quick backcourt, both in starters Becky Hammon and Danielle Robinson and in top backup Jia Perkins. The Stars use that quickness to break defenses down and get open three-point attempts. No team has made more three pointers than the Stars, and no team has allowed more threes than the Lynx. The Stars shot 44.8 percent vs. the Lynx in five games and hit on 44.6 percent of their three-pointers. Strong defense must fuel the Lynx’s fast-break attack. Health is also key. Seimone Augustus, plagued by various knee ailments this season, missed two of the five games vs. San Antonio, including that 16-point loss. But she averaged 18.7 points on 70.3 percent shooting in her three games vs. San Antonio. Maya Moore averaged 19.4 points vs. San Antonio and Lindsay Whalen averaged 16.4 points. The Lynx bench, the least productive bench in the league during the regular season, has to step up. Devereaux Peters, Monica Wright and Tan White will have to contribute. Minnesota finished second in the league in scoring, assists and was second in field-goal percentage.
Stars: The well-coached and deep Stars are a persistent team that is entering the postseason on a three-game winning streak. The key to their attack is their long-range shooting. The Stars finished first in the league in three-pointers made (216, 6.65 per game) and in three-point shooting (35.9 percent), and they have three players in the top six in three-point shooting in Perkins (41.1 percent), Hammon (39.8) and Kayla McBride (39.6). The Stars averaged nine three-pointers made in five games vs. the Lynx. Perkins, candidate for sixth woman of the year, averaged 18 points and was 11-for-22 on three-pointers in three games vs. the Lynx. Robinson, Danielle Adams and McBride all averaged better than 11 points vs. Minnesota. Led by Perkins, the Stars get an average of 29.4 points per game from their bench, easily the most in the league and nearly double the Lynx average of 14.8. The Stars are also playing to extend the season for Hammon, who will retire when the season ends.
Lynx: Minnesota became the only team in league history to post four consecutive 25-victory seasons, but this is the first time in that run that Minnesota doesn’t enter the playoffs as the top seed. But this might have been Cheryl Reeve’s best season yet. With injuries to Peters, Wright and Rebekkah Brunson to start the season, and coaching without Augustus for 10 games, the Lynx still managed to post the league’s second-best record.
Stars: The Stars improved from 12 victories last season to 16 this year, using a three-game winning streak to clinch the Western Conference No. 3 seed. Dan Hughes, a two-time league coach of the year, has coached his team into the playoffs in 10 of 14 seasons, including seven of nine years coaching the Stars. But San Antonio has advanced past the first round just twice in that time, the last time in 2008, when the Stars made it to the finals but were swept by Detroit.
Head to head: The Lynx were 4-1 vs. the Stars this season. The teams have met just once before in the playoffs. The Lynx beat San Antonio two games to one in the 2011 conference semifinals on their way to their first WNBA title. Overall, including those 2011 playoffs, the Lynx have won 12 straight home games against the Stars dating to the 2010 season.