Capsules for 1st round of WNBA playoff series

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A look at the four first-round series in the WNBA playoffs, which start Thursday:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Indiana (21-13) vs. No. 4 New York (19-15)

Season Series: Tied 2-2, with each time winning once on the road.

Indiana: The Fever finished with at least 21 victories for the sixth time in seven years. They lost six of their last nine, including the last two after clinching the top spot in conference. In that final stretch, Indiana went 0-5 against the East’s other playoff teams, including a loss at New York last Friday night. The Fever again were led by perenial All-Star Tamika Catchings (15.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.0 spg) and Katie Douglas (13.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.8 apg). Jessica Davenport (10.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is a solid reserve. Erin Phillips (8.6 ppg, 2.4 apg) missed the last two games with a sprained left ankle but returned to practice this week. The Fever were fifth in scoring (77.8) and field-goal shooting (44 percent), and second in 3-point shooting (37.9 percent). Defensivley, Indiana was second in total steals (299) and allowed the third-fewest points (73.8), but was 10th in rebounding (31.6). Catchings averaged 18.3 points and 3.5 rebounds against New York and Douglas 17.5 points and 3.5 assists. Catchings also was slowed the last two weeks of the season with a sprained knee and missed the season finale.

New York: After an early stretch of winning six of seven, the Liberty struggled with inconsistency on the rest of the way. Defense has steadily improved in the first season under coach John Whisenant. The Liberty won six of their last 10 and could’ve moved up to the No. 2 seed in the East with a win at Connecticut on the final day. Cappie Pondexter (17.4 ppg, 4.7 apg, 4.1 rpg) was the catalyst on offense, and Plenette Pierson (12.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Kia Vaughn (10.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) keyed the defense in their first seasons as starters. Essence Carson (11.3 ppg) also had big games. The Liberty were eighth in scoring (76.2) and field-goal shooting (43 percent), and 10th in assists (15.7). New York was fourth in scoring defense (74.8), sixth in rebounding (33.8) and third in steals (8.4). Pondexter averaged 19.0 points against the Fever, and Carson 16.3 points and 2.3 rebounds. The Liberty beat the Fever in three games in the first round last year.

Prediction: New York in 3.

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No. 2 Connecticut (21-13) vs. No. 3 Atlanta (20-14)

Season series: Tied 2-2, with the home team winning each matchup.

Connecticut: The Sun are back in the playoffs after a two-year absence, earning the conference’s No. 2 seed with a win over New York on Sunday that tied them with Seattle for the league’s best home record at 15-2. With seven players who began the season with less than three years’ experience in the league, Connecticut is led by reigning Rookie of the Year Tina Charles (17.6 ppg, 11.0 rpg). The MVP contender was sixth in the league in scoring, tops in rebounding and second in total blocks (60). She also had 23 double-doubles, eclipsing the WNBA record she set last year. Charles is complemented by starters Renee Montgomery (14.6 ppg, 4.9 apg) and Asjha Jones (13.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and veteran reserve guard Kara Lawson (10.4 ppg, 2.9 apg, 2.6 rpg). The Sun were fourth in scoring (80.1) and third in rebounding (35.6), but 10th in field-goal shooting (42 percent) and seventh in 3-point shooting (36 percent). Charles averaged 15.0 ppg and 10.5 rpg against the Dream and Montgomery 15.8 ppg and 6.5 apg.

Atlanta: After a surprising run to the WNBA finals last year, the Dream got off to a 3-9 start this season before going 17-5 the rest of the way. Atlanta has improved every year since entering the league in 2008, going from four wins the first season to 14 in 2009, 15 a year ago and increasing that by five victories this year. The Dream earned the No. 3 seed in the East with a win at Indiana in the finale on Sunday, finishing as the only team in the East with a winning road record. Angel McCoughtry (21.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.5 apg) led the way, narrowly finishing second behind Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi for the scoring title. Erika DeSouza (11.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Lindsey Harding (10.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.2 rpg) were also solid starters. Sancho Lyttle (10.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) played well after missing the early part of the season with an injury and playing for Spain. Atlanta led the league with 317 steals, and was second in scoring (82.5) and rebounding (36.1), and third in shooting (35 percent). McCoughtry averaged 28.8 points and 7.5 rebounds against the Sun.

Prediction: Connecticut in 3.

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

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