- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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


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.


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.



No. 1 Minnesota (27-7) vs. No. 4 San Antonio (18-16)

Season series: Minnesota won 4-0.

Minnesota: The Lynx are in the postseason for the third time, and the first since 2004. Minnesota lost consecutive games just once _ June 24th and 26th _ and finished with the best record in franchise history, topping the previous best wins total by nine. The Lynx were the best road team in the league at 13-4 and finished 14-3 at home _ just behind Seattle and Connecticut. Seimone Augustus (16.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg) was healthy again after missing significant time the last two seasons and 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) has been a big defensive presence and Maya Moore (13.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg) should win Rookie of the Year. The Lynx have been getting 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 and Whalen were right around their season averages against the Silver Stars, and Brunson averaged 12.0 rebounds.

San Antonio: The Silver Stars started 7-1 and finished 5-1. They struggled for consistency in between and had a rough stretch in which they lost 10 of 12. San Antonio was the only other team in the West with a winning road record (9-8). The Silver Stars, who reached the finals in 2008, are led by Becky Hammon (15.9 ppg, 5.8 apg) and Sophia Young (13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg). Danielle Adams (12.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg) had a solid rookie season despite missing 11 games with a foot injury, and Jia Perkins (12.0, 3.5 rpg) has been a valuable veteran reserve. The Silver Stars were sixth in scoring (77.6) and fifth in scoring defense (75.5). However, they were also ninth in field-goal shooting (43.0 percent), eighth in field-goal shooting defense (42.7 percent), and 11th in rebounding (31.3). Hammon was held scoreless in one matchup against the Lynx, and averaged 13.0 ppg in the other three. She also averaged 6.5 assists in the four games.

Prediction: Minnesota in 2.


No. 2 Seattle (21-13) vs. No. 3 Phoenix (19-15)

Season series: Seattle won 3-1.

Seattle: The defending champions overcame the loss of three-time MVP Lauren Jackson for a 20-game stretch due to a hip injury. The Storm won eight of their last nine games, securing the No. 2 seed with a win against the Mercury last Friday. That also gave them a tie for the league’s best home mark _ 15-2 _ one year after they went 17-0 en route to the WNBA title. The victory was Seattle’s 10th in the last 11 meetings, including a sweep in the West finals last year. Sue Bird (14.7 ppg, 4.9 apg) led the offense in Jackson’s absence, hitting several clutch shots. Jackson averaged 14.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg in eight games after returning. Swin Cash (13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Tanisha Wright (10.1 ppg) and Camille Little (9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) round out a formidable starting lineup, and Katie Smith provides a veteran reserve presence. With Jackson out, the Storm finished 10th in scoring (71.7) and ninth in rebounding (31.7). However, they were tops in scoring defense (69.9) and third in field-goal shooting defense (41.8 percent). Bird averaged 17.5 ppg and 7.8 apg against the Mercury.

Phoenix: The Mercury had a stretch in which they won 10 of 11, then followed it by losing five of six. Phoenix, which won titles in 2007 and 2009, had a chance at the No. 2 seed after winning four of five down the stretch until the loss at Seattle last Friday gave it _ and home-court advantage _ to the Storm. Once again, the Mercury’s high-octane offense is led by Diana Taurasi (21.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.6 apg), 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 games due to back spasms. Candice Dupree (14.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and DeWanna Bonner (10.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg) had strong seasons again, 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 tops in field-goal shooting (46 percent), free-throw shooting (85 percent) and assists (19.2). Phoenix gave up a league-high 85.9 ppg, and was fourth in rebounding (35.1) and last in steals (6.6). Taurasi averaged 29.3 points against the Storm.

Prediction: Seattle in 3.

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