- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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Welcome to a rematch of the 2011 WNBA Finals. The Dream have to hope this one turns out better for them; two years ago, Minnesota won three straight games to sweep Atlanta for the WNBA championship.
Atlanta -- which has been to the Finals three times in the past four seasons -- has had a roller coaster of a season: The Dream surprised the league with a 10-1 start, but then lost eight of their next nine games and also four in a row to close the regular season.
Atlanta arrives at the Finals after a pair of strong series wins, but neither Washington nor Indiana is as good, or as complete, as the Western Conference champion Lynx. The Dream have their work cut out if they want to pull off a big upset and finally win a WNBA title.
The Lynx swept both Seattle and Phoenix to get to the Finals. They have been a very balanced team -- scoring and defending well when they need to -- to reach the championship series for the third year in a row.
Lynx forward Maya Moore is coming off a career-best playoff scoring performance after 27 points against Phoenix on Sunday. She is averaging 21.5 points a game in the playoffs.
Angel McCoughtry, the league's two-time scoring champion, leads Atlanta at 19.5 points a game in the postseason.
These two teams split their regular-season series, with both winning at home; the Lynx won by 22 points in early July and the Dream won by 13 points in August.
The Lynx are healthy at all of their key positions while the Dream have some question marks, including Erika de Souza, the effective center who sustained an ankle injury but finished the game against Indiana on Sunday. Will that ankle be an issue in the Finals?
Key to the series
Protecting the home court. Atlanta has to win at least once in Minnesota if it wants to win this series. That's no easy task considering the Lynx's 17-2 record at home this season. In two playoff wins in Minnesota so far, the Lynx's average margin of victory is 19.5 points.
The Dream have won only two road games since June 23, winning at Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinals and at Indiana on Sunday. But Atlanta has been a dismal team away from its home court for most of the year, and that doesn't bode well.
Now they don't even have their home court to go back to. Atlanta will play Game 3 and, if necessary, Game 4 at Gwinnett Arena in Duluth, Ga. -- which is 25 miles away from Atlanta -- because Disney on Ice will be at Phillips Arena.
Minnesota has too much offense for Atlanta. Moore, Seimone Augustus and point guard Lindsay Whalen can all score in bunches, as they did when they combined for 58 points in their Game 1 win in the Western Conference finals against Phoenix. Even when one of them has an off night, as Whalen did with her 1-for-12 effort against Phoenix on Sunday, they find a way to pick up the slack and win.
While the Dream have McCoughtry, they rely heavily on her for their success. Atlanta is going to need more -- big games from de Souza, Tiffany Hayes (who put up 23 in Game 1 versus Indiana) and guard Armintie Herrington -- if the Dream want to have a true shot at winning three games in this series against the league's best team.
Michelle Smith: Lynx in four games. Minnesota has more offensive options, can play good enough defense to limit McCoughtry's damage and is simply the better team. The Lynx will win their second title in three years.
Mechelle Voepel: I've been wrong about the Dream all year on every prediction, starting with the preseason outlook. So shouldn't I finally predict them to win a series? It's a team that has shown a lot of resolve. It seems like very bad luck that all three years the Dream have made the WNBA Finals -- 2010, '11 and now -- they've had to face such a strong favorite from the Western Conference. But that is the case again, and it's just hard to envision the Lynx letting this title get away from them. I'll go with Minnesota in four games.