PREVIEW THE TEAMS
Lynx: A 13-game win streak to open the season gave the Lynx a jump start on defending their WNBA title. They earned the top seed for the playoffs with a 28-6 record in the regular season, setting a franchise record for victories and going 15-2 at Target Center. The Lynx advanced directly to the semifinals and swept Phoenix — winning the three games by an average of 14 points — to make the WNBA Finals for the fifth time in six years.
Sparks: Los Angeles was nearly as dominant as the Lynx, starting the season 11-0 en route to a 26-8 regular-season mark. After that season-opening win streak ended with a loss to the Lynx, the Sparks won nine in a row to match the WNBA record for the best start over a season’s first 21 games (20-1). The No. 2 seed for the playoffs, the Sparks beat Chicago 3-1 to earn a place in the Finals for the first time in 13 years.
Since the end of the regular season, the Lynx have played only three games in 21 days, giving them some much-needed rest and a chance to polish the details of their game. They had the league’s highest-rated offense in the regular season and have continued that productivity in the postseason, averaging 97 points per game while shooting 52.2 percent. Maya Moore (above) ranks third in playoff scoring, averaging 25.7 points per game, and Lindsay Whalen is averaging 15.3 points, well above her regular-season average of 9.8.
Nneka Ogwumike (above) and Candace Parker give the Sparks perhaps the best 1-2 frontcourt in the league. Ogwumike, the WNBA’s MVP, is extraordinarily efficient; she averaged 19.7 points per game and shot a league-high 66.5 percent in the regular season. Parker, a two-time league MVP, has drawn inspiration this season from the death of her beloved mentor — Tennessee coach Pat Summitt — and the shock of being left off the roster for the Rio Olympics. The offense thrives on crisp ball movement and spreading the floor.
On defense: The WNBA’s top two defenses during the regular season will get their toughest tests in the Finals. The Sparks allowed a league-low 75.9 points per game and have kept a near identical pace in the playoffs. The Lynx were right behind them in the regular season (77 points allowed per game) and remain second in the postseason (82.7). The Lynx have the WNBA’s defensive player of the year in Fowles, while the Sparks get strong two-way play from Ogwumike and Alana Beard.
Off the bench: The Lynx’s deep and effective reserve corps made a huge impact this season, easing the workload of the starters and giving the team additional versatility. Guards Renee Montgomery, Jia Perkins and Anna Cruz can change the pace of a game. The Sparks counter with Jantel Lavender, the WNBA’s sixth woman of the year, and guard Chelsea Gray. Lavender is averaging 11 points in the playoffs, while Gray is an excellent passer who is playing nearly 20 minutes per game.
Parker vs. Moore: In a series laden with stars, these two former MVPs stand out. Each has a wide skill set and blends seamlessly with teammates, but each can take over a game, too. Moore was phenomenal in Game 1 against Phoenix, putting up 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting along with eight rebounds, two assists and two steals. In the deciding game of the Sparks’ semifinals against Chicago, Parker finished with 29 points, five rebounds and four blocks and made all three of her three-point attempts.