Its the series everyone across the WNBA wanted to see, and its the series everyone across the WNBA is going to get.
That much was determined after the Lynx rolled over of the San Antonio Stars, and the Phoenix Mercury promptly decimated the Los Angeles Sparks in the first round of the WNBA playoffs.
Now its on to the Western Conference finals.
Minnesota looked a bit shaky against San Antonio and will need to fix a few things if it wants a chance to defend its WNBA title this season. Phoenix, on the other hand, looked very much like a team that won a record 29 games this season. Itll obviously look to keep that energy rolling into the next round.
This is a matchup between the two best teams in the WNBA this season. Its also a matchup thats further developed into a hotly contested rivalry over the last few seasons. These teams may respect one another. They definitely dont like each other when they step on the floor.
The Lynx and the Mercury have played four times this season and Phoenix holds the edge with a 3-1 record in the regular season series. Minnesota has been competitive in all four games this season its just had a tough time closing out games down the stretch.
Those records dont mean much now, though, because its now a race to two wins for both teams a race that starts Friday night in Phoenix.
Here are a few things to look for in preparation for the series:
Can the Lynx match Brittney Griner in the painted area?
Brittney Griner is a 6-foot-8 behemoth of a woman. She dominated Los Angeles in the first round of the WNBA playoffs, and Minnesota is even smaller than Los Angeles. It starts Janel McCarville and Rebekkah Brunson, both 6-foot-2, on the low block. Those two players will need to bring a grittier sense of toughness to match the enormous height advantage that Griner holds over the entire Lynx roster. If McCarville and Brunson can hold there own with the only woman to ever dunk in the playoffs, Minnesota will be in pretty good shape throughout the series. If they cannot, it will need to rely greatly on the perimeter players to make a difference, namely MVP Maya Moore.
Can Maya Moore live up to her MVP honor?
Maya Moore has been the best player in the WNBA all season and bested Mercury guard Diana Taurasi for MVP honors. Moore has been effective against Phoenix this year and will need to build on that effectiveness moving forward. The Mercury will likely do anything to limit Moore on the offensive end, so shell need to find other ways to make an impact. Moore proved more than capable of that in the first round against the Stars. She led her team with 26 points in a Game 1 win, then when San Antonio clamped down in Game 2, she adjusted her game to make a difference. Moore went off for 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists, and added 4 blocks on the defensive end. If the Lynx can get that type of efforts from Moore, itll be tough for Phoenix to keep up.
Can Diana Taurasi keep it together?
Diana Taurasi is undoubtedly one of the most gifted players in the WNBA. She can score at will and has unparalleled vision on the floor. Taurasi, however, also makes a habit of getting in her own head a little too much. That was evident in the July 31 matchup between the Lynx and Mercury. Taurasi started cold from the floor, and when she didnt get favorable calls from the referees, her frustration spewed. She finished the game 5-for-21 from the floor for 10 points. Thats been a recurring theme throughout her career. Taurasi is the true difference maker in the series and if she is at 100 percent, mentally and physically, the Mercury will be tough to beat.
Is Seimone Augusts at full strength?
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve made it very clear: as good as Maya Moore has been this season, the team needs Seimone Augustus at full strength if it wants to make a deep run in the playoffs. Augustus has dealt with a pesky knee injury all season. She said it feels fine as of right now, though shes also said throughout the season that it can flare up without notice. Augustus looked just fine in Game 2 against the Stars over the weekend. She was effective from inside and outside and finished 10-for-14 from the floor for 21 points. Moore gets tons of attention in the series and Augustus could use that to her advantage.
Those are just a few things to keep an eye on as the series starts up at the end of the week. This upcoming best-of-three series very well could serve as a pseudo WNBA finals matchup as the team that wins it will likely be favored to win the title. Thats still a few weeks away, though.
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