- Associated Press - Saturday, September 11, 2010

SEATTLE (AP) - Averaging 28 points per game in the playoffs, Atlanta Dream second-year forward Angel McCoughtry has the numbers worthy of playing in the WNBA finals spotlight.

Although Seattle Storm veteran Sue Bird (11.8) doesn’t come close to McCoughtry’s stats, she has already has played _ and won _ in the WNBA finals.

Now, Bird figures that title-series experience in 2004 _ and her six years in the league since then _ could come in handy when the teams tip off in the this year’s finals Sunday in Seattle.

“You can say that it might not mean anything. But trust me,” Bird said. “Having experience in this league, knowing what it takes to win, how to play hopefully at our best throughout the entire season, how to peak at the right time _ all of those things, you learn over the course of your career.

“I definitely feel more mature (than in 2004), especially in my ability to lead and things like that.”

The second game of the best-of-five series is Tuesday in Seattle before it shifts to Atlanta for Game 3 on Thursday.

Bird and Australian superstar Lauren Jackson, who averaged 20.5 points and 8.3 rebounds during the regular season and was named the league’s MVP for the third time, led Seattle to a 28-6 record. That tied the league mark for most regular-season victories, and the Storm set a record by going 17-0 at home.

Then, with five straight first-round playoff exits hanging over them since the title run, the Storm swept Los Angeles and defending champion Phoenix in the first two rounds.

Bird and Jackson are the only two holdovers from Seattle’s 2004 championship team, though Jackson wasn’t especially interested in comparing then with now.

“Honestly, I can’t remember. We’re a completely different team, different experiences, things like that,” she said.

Bird, on the other hand, had no problem recalling her feelings heading into that best-of-three series with Connecticut, which went the distance.

“In a way, I was wide-eyed, kind of soaking it all in,” Bird said. “Now, it’s definitely more businesslike, more focused, more knowing what to expect.”

McCoughtry is trying to avoid those wide-eyed emotions. Certainly, she was the picture of calm and cool effectiveness as the Dream swept past top-seeded Washington in the Eastern semifinals, then eliminated New York in the conference finals. McCoughtry led the clincher against the Liberty last Tuesday when she scored a WNBA playoff-record 42 points.

“I got so many comments on Facebook and Twitter saying, ‘Oh, congratulations, you scored. 42.’ Please - that’s nothing,” said McCoughtry, who experienced some championship-style atmosphere when she led Louisville into the 2009 NCAA title game. “Tell me congratulations after we win. Don’t try to pump my head up. Let me focus on this.”

In their own way, two of the WNBA’s best team stories in 2010 are the last two in title contention.

Story Continues →