Five things to watch in the conference finals
We're down to the final four teams in the 2011 WNBA season after a competitive first round in which three of the four series were decided in three games.
Next up are two more best-of-three series, with the Fever facing the Dream and the Lynx playing the Mercury to determine who will meet in the WNBA Finals. Here is a look at the five things to watch in the conference finals.
1. Home cooking
The home teams in these series have quite an advantage. In this case, that will be Indiana and Minnesota, the top seeds in the East and West, respectively. Since 1999, when the current playoff format was first used, teams with the home-court advantage in the conference finals have moved onto the WNBA Finals 19 of 24 times. That's a .792 win percentage and a tough trend to buck. Minnesota is 16-3 on its home floor this season and Indiana is 15-4.
2. It's not all about Diana
Phoenix's Diana Taurasi is one of the league's brightest stars and its leading scorer for four years running. But she does not work alone. Look no further than the fact she missed more than six fourth-quarter minutes after fouling out against Seattle on Monday night and the Mercury still came back to win. Penny Taylor is more than a sidekick to Taurasi. Taylor is capable of doing plenty of scoreboard damage on her own. Then there's Candice Dupree, the lithe forward who scored the game winner in traffic against the Storm and scored a combined 49 points in the final two games of the series.
3. New territory for Lynx
Minnesota has literally never been here before. The franchise hadn't been to the playoffs since 2004. The Lynx also had never won 27 games in a season before this one; they had never won a playoff series until Tuesday night; and they have never played in the Western Conference finals. In fact, the Lynx are one of only three current WNBA franchises that have never made a Finals appearance.
Maybe that changes this year. Minneapolis certainly hopes so. In a city that has been disappointed by the Twins, Vikings and Timberwolves, the Lynx have become a shining light. More than 20,000 people showed up for the two home games in the first-round playoffs series, including Gov. Mark Dayton and former Gov. Jesse Ventura.
4. No de Souza for the Dream?
Reports indicate that Atlanta Dream center Erika de Souza may be leaving before the end of the postseason to join the Brazilian national team in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Columbia. The qualifying tournament opens Sept. 24, the day before the second game of the Eastern Conference finals. It ends Oct. 1, which means that de Souza could return to Atlanta should it reach the WNBA Finals. But can the Dream get there without her? She is the team's second-leading scorer in the playoffs at 14.0 points a game.
5. Leading ladies
There are six female coaches and six male coaches in the WNBA. But the postseason has taken a decidedly feminine turn this season, with three of those women (Indiana's Lin Dunn, Atlanta's Marynell Meadors and Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve) leading their teams into the conference finals.