A look at the two WNBA conference finals series, which start Thursday:
No. 1 Indiana (21-13) vs. No. 3 Atlanta (20-14)
Season Series: Atlanta won 4-0.
Indiana: After losing six of the last nine games in the regular season, the Fever held off New York 72-62 in Game 3 of the East semis to reach the conference finals for the second time in three years. Katie Douglas led the way against the Liberty, averaging 22.0 points. The Fever finished with at least 21 victories for the sixth time in seven years. The Fever were again led by perennial All-Star Tamika Catchings (15.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) in regular season) and Douglas (13.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.8 apg). Erin Phillips (8.6 ppg, 2.4 apg) missed the last two regular-season games with a sprained left ankle but returned in the first round and hit some big shots. The Fever were fifth in scoring (77.8) and field-goal shooting (44 percent), and second in 3-point shooting (37.9 percent). Defensively, Indiana was second in total steals (299) and allowed the third-fewest points (73.8). Catchings, slowed the last two weeks of the season with a sprained knee, had just two points on 1-for-8 shooting in Game 2 against New York, but bounced back with 17 points and eight rebounds in Game 3. She averaged 21.3 ppg and 6.0 rpg in the first three meetings against the Dream, and Douglas had 19.7 ppg in the last three.
Atlanta: After a surprising run to the WNBA finals last year, the Dream rolled through the first round this year. Atlanta opened the conference finals with an 89-84 win at Connecticut _ which was 15-2 at home in the regular season _ and then finished off the Sun 69-64 at home on Sunday. The Dream are 19-5 overall since starting season 3-9. Atlanta earned the No. 3 seed in the East with a win at Indiana on the last day of the season, finishing as the only team in the East with a winning road record at 9-8. Angel McCoughtry (21.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.5 apg) led the way in the regular season, 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, and Sancho Lyttle (10.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) played well after missing the early part of the season with an injury and then while 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 23.8 ppg in the four meetings against Indiana, and Harding was at 15.0. The Dream won the four meetings by an average of 5.8 points, including an 84-74 victory in the first matchup.
Prediction: Atlanta in 2.
No. 1 Minnesota (27-7) vs. No. 3 Phoenix (19-15)
Season series: Minnesota won 3-1, splitting two games at home and sweeping on the road.
Minnesota: The Lynx, back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, beat San Antonio in three games in the conference semis for the first postseason victory in franchise history. Minnesota lost consecutive games just once _ June 24 and 26 _ and finished with its best record, topping the previous high for wins by nine. The Lynx, who have home-court throughout the playoffs, were the best road team in the league at 13-4, and finished 14-3 at the Target Center. Seimone Augustus (16.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg), healthy again after missing significant time the last two seasons, is an MVP candidate along with Lindsay Whalen (13.6 ppg, 5.9 apg, 3.5 rpg). Rebekkah Brunson (10.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is been a big defensive presence and Maya Moore (13.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg) won Rookie of the Year honors. The Lynx also get strong contributions from veteran center Taj McWilliams-Franklin (8.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg). Minnesota was third in scoring (81.5) while allowing the second-fewest points (73.1). The Lynx were the top rebounding team (36.5), and finished second in field-goal shooting (46 percent). Augustus averaged 20.8 points and Moore 16.5 against the Mercury.
Phoenix: After losing three of four to Seattle in the regular season, the Mercury beat the defending champions 77-75 in Game 3 of the conference semis on the road Monday night. Candice Dupree hit the game-winning shot with 1.9 seconds left. The Mercury, who won titles in 2007 and 2009, had a stretch in which they won 10 of 11, then followed it by losing five of six. Phoenix won four of five down the stretch before losing the last two games. Once again, the Mercury's high-octane offense is led by Diana Taurasi (21.6 ppg), who won her fourth straight scoring title. Penny Taylor (16.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.7 apg) was seventh in scoring, but missed five of the last six regular-season games due to back spasms. Dupree (14.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg) had another strong season, DeWanna Bonner (10.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg) won the Sixth Woman of the Year award for the third straight season, and Temeka Johnson added 6.4 ppg and 4.4 apg running the point. Phoenix led the league in scoring (89.0 ppg) for the fifth straight year. The Mercury were also tops in field-goal shooting (46 percent), free-throw shooting (85 percent) and assists (19.2). Taurasi averaged 22.5 points against the Lynx, and Taylor added 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
Prediction: Lynx in 3.