- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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(1) Minnesota Lynx vs. (4) Phoenix Mercury
It will be an experienced championship team versus the WNBA's best team this season in the Western Conference finals, which open in Minnesota on Thursday night.
Minnesota, which set a team record with 27 regular-season wins, added to the record book by winning a playoff series for the first time in the franchise's 13-year history, dispatching the San Antonio Silver Stars in the deciding Game 3 at the Target Center on Tuesday after a rocky start.
The Mercury reached the conference finals -- for the third straight year and the fourth in the last five -- in dramatic fashion, coming back from 18 points down to defeat Seattle on the road Monday night.
Phoenix turned the tide of its deciding game behind Penny Taylor and Candice Dupree because Diana Taurasi, the league's four-time scoring champ, was on the bench after fouling out. The big lineup and zone defense that worked against Seattle might be just what it needs to take out a balanced Minnesota team.
Seimone Augustus leads the Lynx in scoring, but she also has been a key defensive stopper and likely will draw the assignment on Taurasi, who averaged more than 22 points a game against Minnesota during the regular season.
The Lynx had four players score more than 14 points each against San Antonio on Tuesday night and dominated inside; Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Rebekkah Brunson combined for 31 points.
Minnesota won the season series by a 3-2 margin and will have an important home-court advantage.
But Phoenix is the only team in the league to beat Minnesota more than once this year. Its mainstays know how to win these games at the end of the season, and Minnesota does not. We're about to find out whether the experience of current success trumps previous experience.
Rebecca Lobo: What to watch
This will be a great series for TV. Both teams are loaded with talented offensive players who like to push the pace. Minnesota won the regular-season series 3-2 and has the home-court advantage, but Phoenix is coming off a huge Game 3 victory against Seattle in the first round and is playing with tremendous confidence. It will be fun to see Minnesota face the big lineup that Mercury coach Corey Gaines used in the second half against Seattle in Game 3. The Lynx have a deep bench with a lot of skilled post players, but this series might just come down to a shootout between some of the best scoring guards in the West. This. Series. Is. Going. To. Be. Exciting.
Mechelle Voepel: Lynx in three. The Lynx held off the pesky and persistent Silver Stars in the first round, but the Mercury present a very different challenge. Minnesota's defense will have to be in top shape. And the Lynx must be wary of how deceptively lethal Phoenix can be on the boards: A Dupree putback ended the season for the WNBA's defending champion, Seattle.
The Lynx know they need to own the glass, and they've proven they can. Lindsay Whalen has to keep the Minnesota offense from becoming either sloppy or stagnant against Phoenix. It's an oversimplified cliché to say that controlling the pace of the game is everything when facing Phoenix, because beating the Mercury is more complicated than that. But pace is still a big factor.
Phoenix won its semifinal series in Game 3 on Seattle's home court. And, of course, the Mercury have won a WNBA championship on the road, too, in Detroit in 2007. Still, the home-court advantage might be just enough boost for the Lynx to make their first appearance in the league finals.
Michelle Smith: Mercury in three. Even with an entire win-starved city behind them, the Lynx's impressive run ends in three games against a Mercury team that has been in this situation before.
Pat Borzi: Lynx in three. These teams scored a WNBA-record 217 points between them on July 13, so don't expect any 65-63 games in this series. The Lynx won three out of five even with Taurasi averaging 23.2 points. If defense and rebounding matter here -- and they should -- the Lynx will advance to their first WNBA final.
Meri-Jo Borzilleri: Lynx in three. Whalen, Augustus, Brunson, rookie of the year Maya Moore -- Minnesota has too many weapons for Phoenix and also carries momentum from the team's first playoff series win. Taurasi and crew might steal one through sheer will and their disruptive physical play that delivered a stunner against Seattle. But Minnesota, which dominated the regular season at 27-7, is head-and-shoulders above any other team in the league.
16dBonnie D. Ford