WNBA PLAYOFF PREVIEW
Staff writer Kent Youngblood breaks down the WNBA playoffs, which begin Thursday.
Western Conference Semifinals (best of three) LYNX (26-8) VS. SEATTLE (17-17)
Game 1: 8 p.m. Friday at Target Center • Game 2: 4 p.m. Sunday at the Tacoma (Wash.) Dome • Game 3*: Tuesday at Target Center, TBD.
* if necessary
Lynx PPG RPG APG
F Rebekkah Brunson 10.6 8.9 1.5
F Maya Moore 18.5 6.2 3.0
C Janel McCarville 6.3 4.3 2.9
G Seimone Augustus 16.3 3.2 2.5
G Lindsay Whalen 14.9 4.4 5.8
F Camille Little 10.9 4.7 1.4
F Shekinna Stricklen 10.0 2.8 0.8
F Tina Thompson 14.1 5.8 1.1
G Tanisha Wright 11.9 3.7 4.1
G Temeka Johnson 10.2 2.6 4.0
Minnesota: The Lynx won all four regular-season matchups by 13 points or more. The key for the Lynx will be using their defense to get the transition offense going. The Lynx finished tied for the league lead in fast-break points (13.9 per game). Seattle, which held opponents to a league-low 40.4 shooting percentage, will try to slow the game's pace. Minnesota finished first in scoring, point differential and three-point shooting percentage. Another key will be rebounding; the Lynx were the league's third-best rebounding team, Seattle the worst. Moore led the Lynx in scoring vs. Seattle, averaging 19.3 points.
Seattle: The Storm qualified for the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season despite having Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, its two top players, injured all season. This will be the final playoff run for Tina Thompson, the first player ever drafted by the WNBA, who will retire at season's end. Tanisha Wright has led Seattle scorers vs. Minnesota, averaging 13.8 points. Thompson (10.8) and Shekinna Stricklen (10.5) also averaged in double figures vs. the Lynx. The Storm was 6-4 in its final 10 games, with three of those losses coming against the Lynx
Minnesota: The Lynx are the third team in league history to have three consecutive 25-plus-victory seasons, winning the top playoff seed the past three years. Minnesota has won 80 games in that time, all under head coach Cheryl Reeve.
Seattle: Brian Agler – the first Lynx coach ever – has been in Seattle since 2006. He has done perhaps his best job coaching this season, considering the injuries his team faced. The Storm won the 2010 title, but has lost in the first round of the playoffs four times under Agler. Still, his ability to coach defense could make this a grind-it-out series.
Season series: Lynx swept, 4-0. The Lynx beat the Storm 2-1 in the semifinals last season; Seattle was just a missed Lauren Jackson jumper from winning Game 3. The two teams have faced each other a total of 11 times since the start of the 2012 regular season, with the Lynx going 9-2.
Injury report: Minnesota: None. Seattle: F Alysha Clark (ankle) and Johnson (heel) are questionable.
Lynx in two games. Minnesota just has too many offensive weapons, and the team is very focused after having come up short last season.
OTHER MATCHUPS * if necessary
West semifinal: Phoenix (19-15) vs. Los Angeles (24-10)
Games: Thursday, Saturday, Monday*.
At a glance: These two teams, which haven't met in the playoffs since 2009, were the second- and third-best scoring teams in the league this season. So this figures to be an up-tempo, high-scoring affair. Phoenix G Diana Taurasi was second in the league in scoring (20.3) while Sparks F/C Candace Parker (17.9) was sixth. The Sparks finished the season going 7-3 and tied the Lynx for the league's best home record (15-2). Phoenix went 9-4 after Russ Pennell replaced Corey Gaines as head coach in early August. Veteran F Penny Taylor is back to full strength, which is key. Rookie C Brittney Griner had an up-and-down rookie season.
Prediction: Sparks in three games
East semifinal: Chicago (24-10) vs. Indiana (16-18)
Games: Friday, Sunday, Tuesday*.
At a glance: This would seem to be a one-sided affair. Indiana, the defending champion, has the experience and is getting healthy. Chicago is in the playoffs for the first time in the team's eight-year history. Then consider the Fever won the season series 3-1. The Sky is loaded, with Rookie of the Year favorite Elena Delle Donne (18.1 ppg), MVP candidate C Sylvia Fowles (16.3) and G Epiphanny Prince. But Indiana plays stout defense, led by F Tamika Catchings (17.7 ppg). The Fever will turn this into a slow, half-court game. Indiana led the league in defense, allowing just 70.5 points per game. The Sky's big frontcourt could be a problem, but few coaches are more playoff savvy than Indiana's Lin Dunn.
Prediction: Indiana in three games.
East semifinal: Atlanta (17-17) vs. Washington (17-17).
Games: Thursday, Saturday and Monday*.
At a glance: Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry might have had her best season. She led the league in scoring for the second consecutive year (21.5 ppg), while posting career highs in rebounding (5.3) and assists (4.4). Atlanta started the season 10-1 but finished 3-12. McCoughtry will need help from C Erika de Souza (12.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and G Tiffany Hayes (11.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg.). The Mystics, meanwhile, made a stunning turnaround from 5-29 last year to a playoff berth this year under coach Mike Thibault. Atlanta won the first three meetings between these teams, Washington the past two. Washington is led by G Ivory Latta (13.9 ppg, 4.4 apg), who led the league in three-pointers made.
Prediction: Washington in three games