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Saturday, October 1, 2011
Updated: October 2, 2:09 PM ET
Five things to watch in the WNBA Finals

By Michelle Smith

1. Mama Taj

At 40, Taj McWilliams-Franklin is the oldest player in the WNBA. But age has not relegated her to a spot at the end of the bench. It has not limited her to a role as mentor. McWilliams-Franklin has been right in the middle of the action in the Minnesota Lynx's run to the WNBA Finals. She scored a season-high 21 points Sunday in Phoenix to help Minnesota clinch the Western Conference crown. She's averaging 12.0 points a game in five playoff starts. No one on the floor will come close to her postseason experience. She's played in more than 50 WNBA playoff games and she's reached the Finals three times and won the title in Detroit in 2008. There's little doubt that she will play a big role in this series.

2. Recurring Dream

This is Atlanta's second straight appearance in the WNBA Finals. The Dream reached the championship series last season, but were swept by the Seattle Storm. Don't let the 3-0 margin fool you, however. The three games in that series were decided by a total of eight points, each game coming down to one possession. It was a showcase for Dream star Angel McCoughtry, who set a WNBA Finals scoring record with her 35-point effort in the decisive Game 3. It's remarkable to think that four years ago, the Dream set the WNBA record for losses in a season with 30 (a record since broken by the 2011 Tulsa Shock).

3. Big absence

Atlanta will not have starting center Erika de Souza back in time for Sunday's opening game in the WNBA Finals. The Brazilian standout, who is the Dream's second-leading scorer at 11.6 points a game, left the team for Games 2 and 3 in the Eastern Conference finals to play with the Brazilian national team in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Colombia. But the Dream filled in ably during her absence, thanks largely to the efforts of fellow Brazilian Iziane Castro Marques, and closed out the series against Indiana.

4. How the West has won

In the 15-year history of the WNBA -- and in 14 WNBA championships -- only two Eastern Conference team have broken through to win the league title. The first was Houston when it won in 1997 before moving to the West, and then there's the Detroit Shock who won titles in 2003, 2006 and 2008. Can Atlanta, which has won 10 of its last 12 games (including the playoffs) be the second?

5. Another for the club

To this point, Anne Donovan is the only female coach to lead her team to the WNBA title, and that happened when Donovan was coaching the Seattle Storm way back in 2004. But that streak is going to be broken in this Finals series by either Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve or Atlanta's Marynell Meadors.