- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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These two teams arrived in the Western Conference finals from very different journeys.
The Lynx, who have won 10 of their last 11 games, are rested following a two-game sweep of Seattle in the first round. It was a hard-fought pair of games, but Minnesota was the only team in the first round to win a home game. Then the Lynx went into Tacoma, Wash., on Sunday and took care of business to claim their third straight berth in the conference finals.
Phoenix, meanwhile, had to gut out a difficult series against Los Angeles, playing to the final seconds Monday, the deciding game won by a Brittney Griner baseline jumper over Candace Parker with 4.9 seconds left on the clock.
Minnesota and Phoenix played five times this season; the Lynx won each matchup. Only once did the Mercury come within single digits.
What does Phoenix have to do differently to win two of three and return to the WNBA Finals for the first time since winning the title in 2009? The task likely starts on the defensive end, a part of the Phoenix game that has been improving steadily under interim coach Russ Pennell. But the Mercury defense will be tested against the multifaceted Lynx. Minnesota has the WNBA's best offense, with a winning combination of scorers that includes Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson inside.
Phoenix's pick-and-roll game between Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree looked great on Monday night against the Sparks (Dupree finished with 22 points), but the Mercury could definitely use more from rookie Griner, who is going to have to absorb the physical play that Brunson and Janel McCarville are likely to throw her way.
Minnesota scored just 58 points on Sunday against Seattle, a season low. But the Lynx are healthy, with all their key players ready to play.
Phoenix might go into this series without Penny Taylor. She reinjured her surgically repaired knee on Saturday against the Sparks and did not play on Monday in the deciding game.
Key to the series
Perimeter shooting. With both teams set on post talent and guards who can get to the rim, the team that can hit consistently hit from the outside likely will come out on top.
If she's in rhythm, Augustus can make life very difficult for the Phoenix defense on the perimeter. She shot better than 51 percent from the field during the regular season. Moore, meanwhile, hit four of the Lynx's six 3-pointers during the opening round.
Phoenix didn't need the 3-pointer to get past Los Angeles, shooting just 19.5 percent from beyond the arc in the series, but getting DeWanna Bonner and Taurasi warmed up on the outside might be the Mercury's best chance at pulling off the upset.
The better road team wins here. Period.
On Sunday, Minnesota proved it can win a gritty road game by overcoming turnovers and poor shooting to put away Seattle.
Phoenix won two games in Los Angeles in the first round. No small feat at all. But the Mercury are going to have to figure out a way to steal a game at the Target Center, something only two teams managed to do against the Lynx all season.
Michelle Smith: Lynx in three games. Minnesota is fresher after a two-game sweep of Seattle in the first round, and too good at home not to make another trip to the Finals.
Mechelle Voepel: Lynx in three games. This is a better Phoenix team than when these teams last met way back in July. But the Lynx played all season to get home-court advantage, and it will serve them well in this series.
The Lynx won all five regular-season meetings, including two games in Phoenix. But Minnesota and Phoenix haven't played since July 24.
Phoenix is 0-5 against Minnesota this season. Will things be any different when they meet in the Western Conference finals?