The Minnesota Lynx look to defend their 2011 WNBA championship against the Indiana Fever. (L-R) Maya Moore, Rebekka Brunson, Lindsay Whalen, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Seimone Augustus. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx)
The Minnesota Lynx look to defend their 2011 WNBA championship against the Indiana Fever. (L-R) Maya Moore, Rebekka Brunson, Lindsay Whalen, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Seimone Augustus. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx)

The Lynx have to be favored to make it two WNBA titles in a row -- but Indiana has championship fever

Publisher
October 13, 2012 - 1:59pm
Tamika Catchings is the most decorated WNBA athlete without a championship. (Photo by Andrew Snook)

Tamika Catchings is the most decorated WNBA athlete without a championship. (Photo by Andrew Snook)

As most have predicted since before the season even began, the Minnesota Lynx are back in the WNBA Finals, bringing with them the best record in the league and poised to defend their 2011 title. If they succeed, they will be the first team to accomplish that feat since the Los Angeles Sparks took home back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002.

What few, if any, foresaw was the identity of their opponent: the Indiana Fever. Not that the Fever aren't good; quite the contrary, they are always part of the playoff mix. It's just that that is about as far as it goes. The Fever have appeared in the playoffs nine times in the franchise's 13-year existence; perennial Eastern Conference Semifinals contestants since 2005, the Fever have made it as far as the Conference Championship seven times since.

But that's where their luck (or, more often, their bodies) seems to run out. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride; always good enough to avoid the draft lottery (and the infusion of young blood it might bring); never quite good enough -- at the right time -- to go the distance, the Fever have appeared only once in the WNBA Finals.

But what a series that was! In 2009, the Mercury and the Fever duked it out for the full five games, each contest better than the last. For fans who love a scoring fest, there was the 120 (Phoenix) to 116 (Indiana) sprint they called Game One. For those who like a game that's competitive from tip to buzzer, there was Game Three, replete with three ties and seven lead changes in the second half alone, in which the Fever emerged the one-point (86-85) victor after the refs reviewed an Ebony Hoffman (Indiana) long ball and judged it to be a two, not a three. The win gave the Fever a 2-1 edge in the best-of-five series, but though Indiana pushed them to the brink, right through the final minutes of the fifth and final game, at the end of the end of the day, it was Phoenix who walked away with the hardware.

Much of the Fever roster who gave us that exquisite playoff series are still with the team -- Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas, of course, but Tammy Sutton-Brown, Jessica Davenport, Briann January (then just a rookie), all still thirsting for that elusive championship ring. But will this year have a different outcome? Will this be the year that the Fever finally get it done?

With the availability of one of the Fever's two stars very much in doubt and facing a younger Lynx squad loaded with talent at every position, the easy money is on a Minnesota repeat. But then again, there were long odds on the Fever embarrassing the Connecticut Sun on their home floor to get here in the first place. It's why, as my colleague Clay Kallam put it recently, they play the game. But whether or not this is the year 2011 MVP and five-time Defensive Player of the Year Tamika Catchings finally gets to fill in the hole in a prestigious resume, if history is any kind of guide, we can all look forward to an exciting and entertaining championship series.

Let's break it down.

REGULAR-SEASON RECORDS AND PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Team Overall In-Conference Home Road Last 10 Games
Minnesota Lynx 27-7 17-5 16-1 11-6 7-3
Indiana Fever 22-12 15-7 13-4 9-8 6-4

As noted above, the defending champs own the best record in the league, giving them home-court advantage throughout the series. And for the Lynx, that's a very big advantage: They have lost just one game at home all year.

The Fever weren't exactly slouches, going 22-12 to finish second in the East in the regular season. They didn't travel well, however. On the other hand, last month in Atlanta, and again this Thursday in Uncasville, Indiana showed that with its back to the wall, this team has what it takes to get it done -- where ever that might be.

Minnesota's superior record sets up the following Finals schedule:

2012 WNBA FINALS SCHEDULE
Game Date Matchup Time (ET) Time (CT) Broadcast
Game 1 Sun., Oct. 14 Indiana @ Minnesota 7:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Game 2 Wed., Oct. 17 Indiana @ Minnesota 7:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN
Game 3 Fri., Oct. 19 Minnesota @ Indiana 8:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Game 4 * Sun., Oct. 21 Minnesota @ Indiana 8:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Game 5 * Wed., Oct. 24 Indiana @ Minnesota 7:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN
* If necessary

HOW THEY GOT HERE: PLAYOFF RECORDS

Despite their strong showings in the regular season, neither team got here, as they say, on the subway. While Minnesota swept its conference final against the Los Angeles Sparks, the reigning champs were pushed to within one point of elimination in the opening round by the West's No. 4 finisher, a sub-.500 Seattle Storm.

The Seattle Storm pushed the Lynx to the limit in the Western Conference Semifinals with their intense defensive effort. The Lynx, who have been all but invincible at home this season, took the first game, 78-70, in Minneapolis, only to see a Hail Mary three-ball by Lauren Jackson rip an apparent road win from their grasp. Instead, the game was forced into two overtimes, with the Storm ultimately prevailing, 86-79, to set up game 3. That game, too, went down to the final seconds, with the Lynx squeaking into the Western Conference Finals by a single point, 73-72, when Lauren Jackson’s go-ahead jumper rattled off the rim.

Minnesota Lynx: Western Conference Semifinals record

No. 1 Minnesota Lynx v. No. 4 Seattle Storm

Game One:  Seattle Storm 70 @ Minnesota Lynx 78

Game Two:  Minnesota Lynx 79 @ Seattle Storm 86 (2OT)

Game Three: Seattle Storm 72 @ Minnesota Lynx 73

Looking vulnerable, Minnesota headed into the Western Conference Finals against a Los Angeles Sparks squad that had finished the regular-season hot on the heels of the Lynx and had swept their own first-round series against the San Antonio Silver Stars. But with the sole exception of Candace Parker, the Sparks came out in Game One of the West Finals with all the energy and engagement that Barack Obama had brought to the first presidential debate the night before, going down to a 94-77 defeat in Minneapolis against a Lynx team that didn’t look the least the worse for the wear of the previous series. L.A. made all the right adjustments, picking up both their scoring and their rebounding in Game Two, but Minnesota, despite trailing by as many as 13 points after a 17-0 L.A. run in the third period, refused to be rattled. The Lynx battled their way back, then turned to their defense – and to their bench in the person of Monica Wright, who drained a wide-open trey from the corner to seal the 80-79 win and sweep the series, 2-0.

Minnesota Lynx: Western Conference Finals record

No. 1 Minnesota Lynx v. No. 2 Los Angeles Sparks

Game One: Los Angeles Sparks 77 @ Minnesota Lynx 94

Game Two:Minnesota Lynx 80 @ Los Angeles Sparks 79

If Minnesota had it tough in the opening round, Indiana had it even worse -- forced to three games in both conference series.

The Fever finished second in the East, three games back from the regular-season Eastern Conference champs, the Connecticut Sun. It took them three hotly contested games to get past the Atlanta Dream and into the conference finals. In the opening round, the Atlanta Dream showed the Fever to be vulnerable even on their home floor. The Fever lost the series opener to the Dream in Indy (75-66), but then marched into Atlanta and handed the reigning Eastern Conference champs a humiliating 103-88 shellacking, returning the series to Indianapolis where the Fever prevailed, 75-64, to advance.

Indiana Fever: Eastern Conference Semifinals record

No. 2 Indiana Fever v. No. 3 Atlanta Dream

Game One:  Atlanta Dream 75 @ Indiana Fever 66

Game Two: Indiana Fever 103 @ Atlanta Dream 88

Game Three: Atlanta Dream 64 @ Indiana Fever 75 73

A well-rested Connecticut Sun handed the Fever a 76-64 thumping in an opening game that made Indiana look like a prime candidate for a second-round sweep. But the Fever bounced back, pushing the Sun to a third game on a last-minute shot by Shavonte Zellous in Indianapolis (78-76), and then spanking the Sun in Game 3 in Uncasville (87-71) to make it to the Finals.

Still, despite the riveting upset of the Sun on Thursday, the long ordeal proved costly for the Fever. Finally entering the playoffs with all major pieces in working order this season, the Fever lost Katie Douglas to an ankle sprain in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final. She remains day-to-day.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS RECORD

No. 1 Connecticut Sun v. No. 2 Indiana Fever

Game One: Indiana Fever 64 @ Connecticut Sun 76

Game Two: Connecticut Sun 76 @ Indiana Fever 78

Game Three: Indiana Fever 87 @ Connecticut Sun 71

Though the cliche goes that everyone enters the playoffs -- and by extension, each round thereof -- with an 0-0 clean slate, there are some inferences to be drawn for each team from the previous rounds. First, Indiana seemed to be more severely challenged by the harassing, trapping and hedging defense of the Dream, as well as by Atlanta's multiple inside-outside scoring threats, than by the size, power and post dominance of the Sun. Minnesota owns a bit of both, but the Lynx are a team that prides itself on defense and loves to run. And as we'll see below, the Lynx have no shortage of firepower. If anything, they are as aggressive on both sides of the ball as the Dream, while showing greater discipline. They should give the Fever a real handful.

The Fever also like to get out in transition, but as compared to the Lynx, they are an older and somewhat slower team -- all the more so if Katie Douglas is gimpy for the early games of the series. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, this could work to Indiana's benefit. The Lynx very nearly lost to the Seattle Storm, when they were successful in using their disciplined defense to slow the tempo, turning it into a half- or quarter-court game. In contrast, they made short work of the Los Angeles Sparks, a team whose transition offense was the mirror image of Minnesota's but one that has a few steps to go in rivaling Minnesota on defense and in depth. The Fever still have to rebound aggressively in order to prevent Minnesota from getting its own transition game going, but Lin Dunn might want to consider the tactic of slowing the pace of the game.

REGULAR-SEASON HEAD-T0-HEAD MATCHUPS

Sept. 14: Minnesota Lynx 66 @ Indiana Fever 64.

Sept. 17: Indiana Fever 79 @ Minnesota Lynx 86

The two teams met twice in the regular season in two mid-September home-and-homes, with Minnesota taking both. The first, in Indianapolis, was close. The second, three nights later in Minneapolis, was not, though neither was it a wipeout. Tamika Catchings registered double-doubles (14 and 12, 19 and 10) in both games. Katie Douglas, whose status for the Finals remains very questionable due to an ankle injury sustained in the first quarter of Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final, came up big for the Fever in both games, with 14 points at home and 17 points, five boards and three assists on the road. Briann January also logged double-digit scoring (16 points, plus four assists; 14 points, plus five assists) in both games for Indiana.

The Lynx were led by Maya Moore (15 and seven; 29 and seven) in both head-to-head wins. Devereaux Peters came off the bench for 13 points and six boards in Indianapolis, while Lindsay Whalen logged 13 points and dealt out six assists as the Lynx defended their home court.

Let's take a closer look at each position.

POINT GUARD

Minnesota Lynx: Lindsay Whalen HGT: 5-9 WGT: 160 AGE: 30 YRS PRO: 8 EFF: +11.20 College: Minnesota

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
11.5 0.505 0.500 0.727 4.2 5.4 2.06 0.7 0.2 2.09 27.0
2012 Playoff Averages
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
Western Conference Semifinals
12.0 0.270 0.000 0.889 4.0 4.7 2.67 1.0 0.0 3.0 32.7
Western Conference Finals
14.5 0.538 0.000 1.00 2.0 4.0 2.0 1.5 0.0 0.5 30.0
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
13.0 0.381 0.000 0.895 3.2 4.4 2.4 1.2 0.0 2.0 31.6

Indiana Fever: Briann January HGT: 5-8 WGT: 144 AGE: 25 YRS PRO: 3 EFF: +11.83 College: Arizona State

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
10.3 0.404 0.430 0.874 1.8 3.9 2.45 1.2 0.1 2.52 28.4
2012 Playoff Averages
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
Eastern Conference Semifinals
16.7 0.538 0.143 1.000 2.3 5.0 3.67 2.3 0.3 4.0 32.7
Eastern Conference Finals
8.3 0.400 0.333 0.800 2.0 2.7 2.0 1.0 0.0 2.67 32.3
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
12.5 0.484 0.200 0.917 2.2 3.8 2.83 1.7 0.2 3.33 32.5

Both teams feature talented but very different floor generals. Lindsay Whalen may well have supplanted Seattle's Sue Bird as the best point guard in the WNBA this season. At the very least it can be said that the U.S. Women's Olympic Team didn't miss a beat when Whalen subbed in for Bird in London this summer. Whalen's 5.4 assists per game in the regular season earned her the season's Peak Performer Award, and with just 2.06 turnovers per game this season, she owns an impressive 2.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. And she is not a mere facilitator, however important that might be. Her 12 points per game requires the respect of defenders, and she has been known to explode for considerably more, as, for example, in Game 1 of the Lynx' series against Seattle, when her 20 points led the way to victory for Minnesota.

Whalen has a three-point shot in her arsenal, but she is not a prolific scorer from distance. She took only 26 three-pointers this season, and though she netted half of them, you're far more likely to find Whalen slicing through traffic to the hoop than stepping out to shoot the three.

If there were lessons to be learned in the Western Conference Finals series at least one of them was this: Never take Whalen for granted. Whalen entered the playoffs still nursing the broken ring finger on her left hand she injured during the London Olympics. Then she went down hard in Game 3 against Seattle, injuring her left wrist. Between trips to the on-site X-ray room, Whalen soldiered on through the pain of what was later diagnosed as a bone bruise, an intensely painful injury that takes weeks to heel and for which little can be prescribed but rest.

In the balance of Game 3, Whalen's effectiveness was clearly hampered: With Whalen consigned to doing everything from dribbling to shooting with her dominant right hand, Bird was able to overplay Whalen to the right even more than usual.

Whalen did not take time out to rest, however. Between icing and physiotherapy treatments, she managed to both practice and play with the hand bandaged and didn't seem to miss a step in the Western Conference Finals. She ignored coach Cheryl Reeve's directions to do everything with her right, dribbling and finishing with the left as well as the right. She even knocked down a circus shot worthy of the highlight reel in Game One of the Conference Final, making liars of those (ourselves included) who predicted a hobbled Whalen would show up against L.A. In fact, if you check the numbers carefully, you'll find that Whalen's already stellar stats improved -- her scoring going up and her turnovers heading down -- after the injury. Perhaps Reeve should prescribe a wrist brace for Whalen on a regular basis.

In any event, assume Whalen will be in top form for the WNBA Finals.

Speaking of form, January is having the best season of her career, having come back from a right ACL tear that ended her season after just 10 games last year. Like Whalen, January is a speedy guard who likes to get out in front and run in transition, and both are great hustle players who can be counted on to dive to the floor after every loose ball. (Exhibit A: After missing what would have been the go-ahead layup in the waning seconds of Game Two against Connecticut, January stuck with the play, beating out everybody in the zip code to get her own rebound, then diving out of bounds to keep the ball in play while still ably tipping the ball to her teammate Shavonte Zellous for the winning shot.) On the whole, January is not quite as good a ball handler as Whalen (though Whalen had her share of miscues against Sue Bird in the Western Conference semis). When she penetrates, January is more likely to take her shot than Whalen, who can be counted on to kick out if there is a teammate even arguably open.

What January brings to the table is her three-ball: She netted 48 of 107 (43 percent) attempts from beyond the arc in the regular season. If January gets hot from the perimeter, Whalen will have her hands full. That's a big if, however. January all but disappeared in the first two rounds of the playoffs, knocking down just two of 10 from long range. Particularly if Douglas is out (or, what might be worse, playing lame), the Fever will need more from January if they are to prevail.

Advantage: Minnesota thanks to Whalen's superior reliability. But watch out if the 43-percent three-point shooting edition of January shows up in the Final.

SHOOTING GUARD

Minnesota Lynx: Seimone Augustus HGT: 6-0 WGT: 165 AGE: 28 YRS PRO: 6 EFF: +19.00 College: LSU

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
16.6 0.491 0.437 0.852 3.6 2.5 1.72 0.9 0.2 1.07 28.5
2012 Playoff Averages
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
Western Conference Semifinals
20.0 0.457 0.286 0.842 5.7 1.3 2.0 2.0 0.7 1.0 38.7
Western Conference Finals
18.5 0.517 0.300 0.800 3.5 5.0 1.0 1.5 0.0 0.5 34.5
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
19.4 0.480 0.294 0.833 4.8 2.8 1.6 1.8 0.4 0.8 37.0

Indiana Fever: Erin Phillips HGT: 5-8 WGT: 165 AGE: 27 YRS PRO: 4 EFF: +6.50 College: Australian Institute for Sport

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
6.1 0.390 0.438 0.862 2.8 2.2 1.21 0.8 0.1 1.69 21.4
2012 Playoff Averages
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
Eastern Conference Semifinals
6.7 0.571 0.600 0.500 1.0 1.0 2.0 0.3 0.3 2.0 27.3
Eastern Conference Finals
9.0 0.476 0.556 0.667 1.7 1.3 0.33 0.3 0.0 3.33 25.7
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
7.8 0.514 0.571 0.600 1.3 1.2 1.17 0.3 0.2 2.67 26.3

Minnesota fills the two spot with Seimone Augustus, an elite player who, if not sharing the ball on the Lynx' talent-packed roster, would have to have been a serious contender for MVP both this season and last. Augustus was already averaging 16.6 points per game during the regular season, and she, too, has upped her numbers in the playoffs, currently averaging nearly 20 points through the first two rounds. A highly efficient scorer who averages nearly 50 percent from the field, Augustus can be counted on to produce high double-digit scoring pretty near every time she takes to the floor. And that's not to mention her assists (five per game, against just one turnover per game in the Conference Finals). Or her defense.

One area that has suffered -- a bit -- for Augustus in the postseason has been her three-point threat. Her long-ball, nearly as accurate as her field-goal shooting in the regular season, tapered to a little under 30 percent in the playoffs. But then again, it hasn't been needed, since teammate Maya Moore has been knocking down treys at a four-per-game clip.

The matchup at the two is a bit difficult to suss out, due in part to some positional gerrymandering by Fever coach Lin Dunn this season, and in part to Douglas' uncertain status. Tamika Catchings is a natural wing, though she has played power forward in the past and has adjusted well after Dunn shifted her to the four in an effort to glean greater rebounding this season. That move, in turn, meant Katie Douglas -- who is perhaps even more of a natural two than Catchings is a three -- was shifted to small forward to fill the void left by the Catchings move.

This in turn meant finding someone to fill in for Douglas at shooting guard -- and for the entire regular season (as well as Game One of the Eastern Conference semis against Atlanta) that job fell to Shavonte Zellous, a three-year vet out of Pitt.

After a disastrous Game One defeat at home at the hands of Atlanta, Dunn played another round of positional musical chairs, sending Zellous to the bench in favor of reliever Erin Phillips and starting center Tammy Sutton-Brown to the very deepest end of the bench for Erlana Larkins. The last time I remember a coach undertaking such a radical transformation of her starting lineup mid-playoffs for reasons other than absence or injury was in 2010 when Marynell Meadors gave her opponents' scouts conniptions by switching back and forth between small and speedy/big and powerful Dream lineups in the Dream's first run to the finals. (Meadors did it again in 2011, but that time it was necessitated by Erika de Souza's departure to play for the Brazilian National Team in the FIBA America's Olympic Qualifying Tournament).

Unlike her changes in the post, the numbers don't show any marked improvement at the two-spot as a consequence of the change. Still, say what you will, on the whole, the reconfiguration worked. Zellous is producing nearly identical numbers off the bench as she did in the starting rotation, and the Fever would not be in the Finals on Sunday had it not been for Zellous' game-winning jumper in the final seconds of Game Two of the Eastern Finals.

Phillips, who started only eight games (of 29 played) in the regular season -- and those at the point while January got back in the saddle -- has now started five of six at the two since the playoffs began. It's really hard not to like the young Aussie who gave up her shot at a spot on the Opals' Olympic squad to stay with the Fever this season. Quite apart from her fun-loving spirit, there is the speed and the hustle, her scrambling, at times almost frenetic, defensive style, her willingness to do whatever is asked of her for the team -- and her three-ball when it's dropping.

And they were most definitely dropping on Thursday, when Phillips knocked down three of four from beyond the arc (and six of 10 from the floor) to help carry the Fever past the Sun and into the Finals in a 15-point outing.

The Fever could get a real boost from Phillips if she continues to find her range. A 43.8-percent (28-of-64) three-point sharpshooter in the regular season, Phillips is shooting a sizzling 57.1 percent in the playoffs to date. But the raw numbers tell a somewhat different story -- that 57.1 percent translated to eight of 14 long balls slicing the nets in six games. Which is why Phillips averaged just 6.1 points per game in the regular season and only a slightly better 7.8 points per game since moving to the starting lineup in the playoffs.

And it also why, notwithstanding how likeable Phillips is as a person and a player, you have to like Augustus' nearly 20 points per game -- even with her vanishing three-ball -- a whole lot better.

Advantage: And it's a big one -- Minnesota.

SMALL FORWARD

Minnesota Lynx: Maya Moore HGT: 6-0 WGT: 175 AGE: 23 YRS PRO: 1 EFF: +19.60 College: UConn

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
16.4 0.465 0.388 0.879 6.0 3.6 1.82 1.5 0.6 2.53 29.7
2012 Playoff Averages
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
Western Conference Semifinals
16.0 0.405 0.421 0.857 6.3 3.3 0.67 1.0 0.7 3.0 38.3
Western Conference Finals
20.0 0.538 0.533 1.000 4.5 3.0 1.5 1.5 0.5 2.0 32.5
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
17.6 0.456 0.471 0.909 5.6 3.2 1.0 1.2 0.6 2.6 36.0

Indiana Fever: Katie Douglas HGT: 6-0 WGT: 165 AGE: 33 YRS PRO: 11 EFF: +11.0 College: Purdue

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
16.5 0.413 0.423 0.844 3.8 2.2 1.66 1.5 0.3 1.72 30.9
2012 Playoff Averages
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
Eastern Conference Semifinals
13.3 0.378 0.333 0.700 3.3 1.3 2.33 1.3 0.0 2.33 31.7
Eastern Conference Finals
17.7 0.525 0.375 9.833 1.3 1.7 1.33 1.0 0.0 0.9 26.0
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
15.5 0.455 0.355 0.750 2.3 1.5 1.83 1.2 0.0 1.17 28.7

Indiana Fever: Shavonte Zellous (the likely alternate if Douglas is unable to play) HGT: 5-10 WGT: 155 AGE: 26 YRS PRO: 3 EFF: +7.17 College: Pittsburgh

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
7.5 0.369 0.345 0.770 2.7 1.7 1.39 0.7 0.5 2.29 22.3
2012 Playoff Averages
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
Eastern Conference Semifinals
7.0 0.350 0.200 0.600 4.0 2.0 1.33 0.3 1.0 1.67 22.7
Eastern Conference Finals
5.7 0.400 0.333 0.000 2.7 1.3 0.67 1.7 0.3 3.0 23.7
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
6.3 0.375 0.250 0.600 3.3 1.7 1.0 1.0 0.7 2.33 23.2

Here we come to one of the great unknowns of this Finals series: Will Katie Douglas play? And if she does, will she be moving at anything close to peak velocity?

Ankle sprains are a challenging injury to handicap (no pun intended). On the one hand, break your ankle and there's little doubt about whether you'll be playing -- plaster or fiberglass, the cast will leave too big a divot in the wooden floor. But put a fracture in a cast and the pain subsides markedly and the recovery period (albeit too long to be of any use in these playoffs) is more or less a known factor). Whereas sprains and soft tissue injuries can linger and nag for months on end, sometimes better, others worse.

On the other hand, I once saw Penny Taylor sprain her ankle in the Olympics. It was a twisting fall that made you wince just to watch it; like Douglas, she had to be half-carried off the court in obvious distress. But for the next two days, the Australian trainers had her up day and night, icing 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. Two days later, Taylor had a career game. It couldn't have been a pleasant experience, but for things like WNBA titles and Olympic medals, an athlete does whatever it takes.

The challenge is that a matchup against Maya Moore would have required all that Douglas had to give -- and then some -- even before the injury. And the further problem is that, even discounting the injury, it's hard to know which version of Douglas will show up in any given game. In the first two games of the East semis, Atlanta had Douglas' number. In the Fever's Game One home loss, Douglas did manage double figures (13 points) but on abysmal (one of five) three-point shooting, and a just so-so performance (four of 12) from the field. Douglas did make valuable contributions on defense, however, with three steals and five boards to add to a pair of assists.

Indiana's Game Two victory in Atlanta was even worse for Douglas, who scored just three points after spending most of the game (22 minutes) on the bench in a combination of foul trouble and frustration. She netted just one of six her field-goal attempts, and even came up empty-handed at the charity stripe. This was not the Katie Douglas, All-Star edition. (Bear in mind, that Cheryl Reeve is undoubtedly memorizing the Atlanta game tapes, as the Dream also had Catchings locked down -- until the fourth quarter, when Catchings exploded for 18 of her game-high 25 points. But unlike Douglas, at least in that particular outing, Catchings found other ways to contribute even when her shot wasn't falling, crashing the boards for 13 rebounds, also a game high, doling out three assists and grabbing three steals.)

But that's not to say that the All-Star Douglas has disappeared. In Game Three of the semis, when her team needed her most, Douglas showed up for 24 points on nearly 50 percent (nine-of-19) from the field, including three-of-six from long range. And though they carted her off in an ambulance just five minutes into Game Three of the East Finals, Douglas also came up huge against Connecticut, averaging 25.5 points per game in the two games in which she played significant minutes. In Game One, that included a five-of-10 performance from three-point range, though in Game Two, Douglas's long ball again went Missing in Action (one-of-six); still, she got it done on the dribble drive and from mid-distance, against shooting nine-of-19 from the field.

The Fever desperately need that version of Katie Douglas to show up in this series. Sure, a constellation of relievers and also-rans got 'er done in Game Three to oust Connecticut, but how long can that last in a best-of-five series?

Especially when, on the other side of the court you have All-Everything Maya Moore, who in just her second year in the pros, was the most productive player in the league this season in terms of her plus/minus rating. Her numbers this season are on a par with those of Indiana's seasoned veteran, her three-point shooting has stepped up a notch in the post-season and her foul shooting is near perfection. Toss in nearly twice as many rebounds per game as Douglas and nearly half again as many assists and you see what all the fuss is about.

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve has said that in scouting a playoff, you have to assume your opponent's best players are going to show up healthy and in top form. If that's the case, this match-up will be a delight to witness.

If not, the likely substitute for Indiana is Shavonte Zellous, a perfectly serviceable role player -- but no equal to Maya Moore. And the additional burden for Indiana is that should that happen, the likelihood is that the Fever will attempt to compensate for the mismatch by having Catchings play a little three, a little four. A Catchings-Moore matchup would also be fun to watch, the savvy veteran against the athletic newcomer. But putting Catchings back out on the wing was part of the problem the Fever experienced against Atlanta; it cost Indiana in rebounding, turnovers, and paint points. And it would leave a huge question mark over who would be left to attempt to shut down Rebekkah Brunson.

Advantage: Until we get a chance to see whether and how Douglas performs, we'd have to call this a big advantage for Minnesota.

The numbers say it all.

POWER FORWARD

Minnesota Lynx: Rebekkah Brunson HGT: 6-2 WGT: 184 AGE: 30 YRS PRO: 8 EFF: +20.60 College: Georgetown

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
11.4 0.505 0.0 0.679 8.9 1.2 1.29 1.2 0.9 2.29 27.0
Western Conference Semifinals
16.7 0.606 0.000 0.769 11.7 0.7 3.33 1.3 1.3 3.67 38.0
Western Conference Finals
10.0 0.471 0.000 1.000 10.0 2.0 1.50 0.5 0.5 4.0 29.5
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
14.0 0.560 0.000 0.824 11.0 1.2 2.60 1.0 1.0 3.80 34.4

Indiana Fever: Tamika Catchings HGT: 6-1 WGT: 167 AGE: 33 YRS PRO: 11 EFF: +20.67 College: Tennessee

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
17.4 0.432 0.379 0.864 7.6 3.1 1.74 2.1 0.8 2.47 30.5
Eastern Conference Semifinals
17.0 0.325 0.267 0.875 11.7 2.7 3.67 2.7 1.3 2.0 32.7
Eastern Conference Finals
16.7 0.348 0.385 0.875 8.7 3.0 1.67 2.3 1.7 3.33 37.3
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
16.8 0.337 0.321 0.850 10.2 2.8 2.67 2.5 1.5 2.67 35.2

If forced to choose a playoffs MVP from the Lynx at this minute, I'd have to hand it to Rebekkah Brunson, who put up solid numbers in the regular season but has improved by leaps and bounds since the playoffs began. (Reeve, by the way, has said she agrees with that assessment.) Brunson's numbers may not equal those of some of her sharpshooting teammates (though they're still pretty impressive), but Brunson's post dominance is part of what enables Whalen, Moore and Augustus to do what they do. Brunson's rebounding and defense of Seattle's Lauren Jackson are two key reasons why the Lynx are back in the Finals, and though her numbers tapered off a bit in the Western Finals, Brunson's control of the paint nearly neutralized Rookie of the Year Nneka Ogwumike and turned the Sparks into jump shooters, which some of them proved not to be so good at on this occasion.

If there's a player who can similarly neutralize Brunson, it's got to be Tamika Catchings. The two more or less equal one another on paper, with Catchings holding a slight edge in scoring, and Brunson a modest advantage in rebounding. The two are within an inch of each other height-wise, and roughly equal one another in efficiency.

But there's so much to Catchings' game that cannot be captured in a box score. The hustle on every single play, the basketball IQ, the commitment to defense, and her knack for finding some way to contribute to her team's success even on an off night for her individually.

If Brunson has a weakness, it's that she's foul prone, and a bit butter-fingered with the basketball. Catchings, too, has been unusually error-prone in her ballhandling in the postseason, but part of that was Atlanta's harrying defense. The Lynx may try to replicate it, but Catchings is roughly twice as adept at stripping her opponents as is Brunson. What's more, she manages to defend without fouling, which has been a problem for Brunson, who averaged four personals a game against L.A., with an attendant drop off in minutes and offensive production. While Brunson rode the pines in Game Two of the Western Finals, the Sparks sprinted off on a 17-0 run that could have cost the Lynx the game had it not been for the late-game heroics of Moore and Monica Wright (after Brunson had returned to the game.)

The recipe for Dunn is clear: Have her players, and particularly Catchings, take the ball straight at Brunson, and pray for a closely called game. Don't fall into the trap of moving Catchings to the perimeter to take on Moore and Augustus -- those double teams will have to come from elsewhere. Meanwhile, Reeve will face the difficult task of managing Brunson's minutes -- something she did a top-notch job of in the Conference Finals.

Advantage: Indiana.

CENTER

Minnesota Lynx: Taj McWilliams-Franklin HGT: 6-2 WGT: 195 AGE: 41 YRS PRO: 13 EFF: +9.0 College: St. Edward's

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
8.4 0.519 0.400 0.750 5.4 2.5 2.0 1.0 1.4 2.27 26.6
Western Conference Semifinals
5.0 0.313 0.000 0.556 4.7 2.7 1.0 0.7 1.0 3.0 27.0
Western Conference Finals
7.0 0.438 0.000 0.000 4.0 3.0 1.50 1.0 1.5 3.0 25.5
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
5.8 0.375 0.000 0.556 4.4 2.8 1.2 0.8 1.2 3.0 26.4

Indiana Fever: Erlana Larkins HGT: 6-1 WGT: 205 AGE: 26 YRS PRO: 2 EFF: +16.83 College: North Carolina

2012 Regular-Season Average
PPG FG% 3FG% FT% RBG APG TO SPG BPG PF MPG
4.1 0.509 0.000 0.861 4.4 1.1 1.0 1.0 0.2 1.82 15.5
Eastern Conference Semifinals
14.3 0.708 0.000 0.818 10.7 0.3 3.67 0.3 1.7 2.67 31.3
Eastern Conference Finals
7.3 0.429 0.000 0.667 9.7 1.7 1.33 0.0 0.3 2.67 30.0
2012 Combined Playoff Averages
10.8 0.578 0.000 0.765 10.2 1.0 2.5 0.2 1.0 2.67 30.8

McWilliams-Franklin will celebrate her 42nd birthday during this Finals series, but you wouldn't know it to watch her play. She's a savvy, battle-tested veteran who brings leadership and experience to the court.

She also makes an interesting matchup with Erlana Larkins, whose personal story and playoff performance has been the stuff of Hollywood scripts. After riding the pines in New York for a season and a half, then being waived by the Liberty and the Mercury, Larkins headed to Turkey, where she built a reputation as a banger and boarder. Dunn, in search of a some help on the backboards, brought Larkins back to the WNBA, where she was once again consigned to the bench. Until Game Two of the Eastern Semis. The rest, as they say, is history.

Larkins has skyrocketed from 4.1 points, 4.4 boards per game in the regular season to a double-double average in the playoffs after Dunn rolled the dice, sent Sutton-Brown to the bench, and gave Larkins her first start as a pro. Larkins' numbers dipped a bit in the Eastern Conference Finals -- but look who she was up against: No less than the 2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles. So the jury's still out on whether Larkins is just enjoying some beginners' luck (fueled, perhaps, by the rush of getting her first real shot as a pro), or whether the renaissance will have staying power. I'd opt for the latter: Larkins bears a striking resemblance in heart and sheer bang per inch to Yolanda Griffith, though Griffith was 6-4 and an MVP.

The thing is, Dunn will be looking for Larkins not only to neutralize McWilliams-Franklin, but also to help contain Brunson. The numbers tell the story when it comes to the first of those assignments; the bigger question is the latter.

Advantage: Indiana. All the more so because Larkins' own skills are augmented by Dunn's ability to mix things up by bringing in extra height (Jessica Davenport) and experience (Sutton-Brown) off the bench.

BENCH

Minnesota Lynx: Guards -- G/F Monica Wright (Regular season: 8.6 ppg, 2.4 RBG, 1.9 APG, 1.9 TO, 1.0 SPG; Playoffs: 6.6 ppg, 2.6 RBG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 TO; 1.6 SPG in just under 20 minutes per game); Candice Wiggins (Regular season: 6.8 ppg, 2.1 RBG, 2.0 APG, 1.79 TO, 0.7 SPG; Playoffs: 1.6 ppg, 0.8 RBG, 1.2 APG, 1.0 TO, 0.4 SPG in a little more than 15 minutes per game); also Erin Thorn (less than two minutes per game). Forwards -- Amber Harris (Regular-season: 3.5 ppg; 1.9 RBG, 0.5 BPG; Playoffs: 3.0 ppg, 1.3 RBG in six minutes per game); Devereaux Peters (Regular season: 5.3 ppg, 3.8 RBG, 0.8 BPG, 1.3 TO; Playoffs: 0.4 ppg, 0.8 RBG, 0.2 SPG, 0.4 TO in roughly five minutes per game), Amber Harris. Center -- Jessica Adair (less than one minute per game).

Indiana Fever: Guards -- G Shavonte Zellous (Regular Season -starting : 7.5 ppg, 2.7 RBG; 1.7 APG, 1.39 TO, 0.7 SOG, 2.29 PF; Playoffs: 6.3 ppg, 3.3 RBG, 1.7 APG, 1.0 TO, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 2.33 PF in just over 23 minutes per game); Jeanette Pohlen (Regular season: 4.4 ppg, 1.7 rbg, 1.1 APG, 0.9 TO, 0.6 SPG; Playoffs: 3.5 ppg, 0.3 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.8 TO, 0.8 SPG in 12.5 minutes per game off the bench). Forwards/Centers: Jessica Davenport (Regular season: 6.7 ppg, 3.4 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 1.5 TO, 1.8 PF; Playoffs: 5.3 ppg, 1.7 RPG, 0.3 APG, 1.3 TO, 0.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 0.7 PF in a little less than 12 minutes per game off the bench); Tammy Sutton-Brown (Regular season - starting in all but one game: 3.9 ppg, 2.8 RBG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 TO, 0.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 1.18 PF; Playoffs: 4.8 ppg, 2.6 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.4 TO, 0.4 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.2 PF in 11 minutes per game off the bench). The rest of the roster sees no appreciable playing time.

Much has been made of Minnesota's depth, and it's always nice when you can bring players the caliber of Candice Wiggings or Monica Wright in off the bench. But in the semifinals series against Seattle, Reeve barely tapped her bench. In the first game of the Conference Finals against L.A., Reeve reversed course, turning to her bench early and often, giving her starting rotation a respite from the three-game grind Seattle had put them through. And even in Game Two, it was Wright who came off then bench to knock down the winning three from the corner.

Still, only Wright and Wiggins have seen significant playing time in the playoffs. The depth of Minnesota is really in its starting lineup. Few teams enjoy the luxury of brilliance at nearly every position.

Meanwhile, Indiana's roster for all practical purposes is also only eight-to-nine deep. And though Dunn's makeover of her starting lineup makes it difficult to assess just who's a starter and who's a reliever, the Fever have made the most of their bench, who have come up big in crunch time -- Zellous with her game-winner against Connecticut in Game Two, Jeanette Pohlen who went a perfect five-of-five from the field, including four-of-four from the arc in Game Three, to help carry Indiana over the Sun and into the Finals, and 6-5 post Jessica Davenport who put in valuable defensive minutes against Tina Charles in the Eastern Finals.

Advantage: Neutral.

COACHING

Minnesota Lynx: Cheryl Reeve, 2011 WNBA Coach of the Year; 2011 WNBA Championship.

Indiana Fever: Lin Dunn, 2009, 2002 WNBA Coach of the Year runner-up; 1997-98 ABL Coach of the Year; No WNBA Championships; two Eastern Conference Championships; winningest coach in Indiana Fever history.

Both are remarkable coaches, both strong Xs and Os coaches, and both excellent motivators, though in quite different ways. Dunn is an old-schooler, whose coaching resume predates Title IX. With 606 collegiate wins under her belt, Dunn initially went pro in 1996-1997, taking over the Portland Power in the now-defunct American Basketball League midseason, moving to the WNBA when the ABL ceased operations in 1998. Since then she has worked as a scout, assistant coach, and general manager, and ultimately as a head coach first for the WNBA's Seattle Storm (2000-02) and most recently the Indiana Fever (2004-07, assistant coach; 2008-present, head coach).

Reeve is a relative newcomer, though certainly no coaching novice. She brought 21 years of collegiate experience and eight years as an assistant coach and GM in the WNBA to the table when she became head coach of the Minnesota Lynx three years ago. She began her pro coaching career as an assistant to Anne Donovan with the former Charlotte Sting, helping guide the Sting to the WNBA Finals in her first year. She moved on to serve as an assistant to Dan Hughes with the Cleveland Rockers in 2003, returned to the Sting in 2004-05, and then joined the staff of the Detroit Shock in 2006. Her four years as an assistant to Detroit Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer included three WNBA Finals appearances and two league titles (2006, 2008) and in the case of Reeve, a WNBA championship. In a span of just two years as head coach, she accomplished an impressive turnaround, taking the Lynx from the Western Conference basement to the WNBA championship.

Advantage: Minnesota -- but only because Reeve has a championship to her credit, while Dunn is still looking for hers. You could fairly call it a wash.

OFFENSE

Minnesota Lynx

2012 Minnesota Lynx Regular-Season Team Offensive Averages
RANK PPG OPP PPG DIFF APG OPP APG DIFF FG% OPP FG% 3FG% OPP 3FG% FT%
1 85.97 76.17 9.79 20.76 15.58 5.17 0.473 0.407 0.400 0.327 0.755
2012 Minnesota Lynx Playoff Offensive Averages
RANK PPG OPP PPG DIFF APG OPP APG DIFF FG% OPP FG% 3FG% OPP 3FG% FT%
Western Conference Semifinals
4 76.7 76.0 0.7 15.0 19.3 -4.3 0.404 0.411 0.314 0.361 0.808
Western Conference Finals
1 87.0 78.0 9.0 21 16 5.0 0.480 0.474 0.410 0.300 0.875
2012 Minnesota Lynx Combined Playoff Offensive Averages
3 80.8 76.8 4.0 17.4 18.0 -0.6 0.437 0.436 0.365 0.341 0.819

Indiana Fever

2012 Indiana Fever Regular-Season Team Offensive Averages
RANK PPG OPP PPG DIFF APG OPP APG DIFF FG% OPP FG% 3FG% OPP 3FG% FT%
6 78.3 72.3 6.0 16.6 14.3 2.3 0.418 0.429 0.400 0.332 0.814
2012 Indiana Fever Playoff Offensive Averages
RANK PPG OPP PPG DIFF APG OPP APG DIFF FG% OPP FG% 3FG% OPP 3FG% FT%
Eastern Conference Semifinals
4 81.3 75.7 5.6 13.0 15.0 -2.0 0.463 0.410 0.298 0.257 0.718
Eastern Conference Finals
3 76.3 74.3 2.0 13.0 14.0 -1.0 0.456 0.429 0.449 0.388 0.775
2012 Indiana Fever Combined Playoff Offensive Averages
4 78.83 75.00 3.83 13.0 14.5 -1.5 0.459 0.419 0.375 0.333 0.737

The top-scoring team in the league this season, Minnesota likes to get out in transition and run. Their transition game is fueled both by rebounding and by steals. They own a strong inside-outside game and a multitude of scoring options making them extremely difficult to defend. Their offensive numbers tapered off a bit in the playoffs, thanks primarily to Seattle's lock-down defense and success, for the most part, in controlling tempo, as well as by an uptick in turnovers in that series.

Indiana also likes a fast-paced transition game, but they don't execute it nearly as well as Minnesota, thanks primarily to a paucity of rebounding. That situation has improved a bit with the introduction of Larkins into the starting lineup.

In fact, the Fever were just sixth in the league in scoring offense during the regular season, well behind Los Angeles, for example, who had their clock cleaned by the Lynx when they tried to get into a running game with the reigning champs. It wasn't a lack of talent: Candace Parker had a stellar series and Kristi Toliver and Alana Beard both had double-digit scoring games. But they simply did not have the breadth of firepower needed to prevail in a shootout with the Lynx.

The Fever may be tempted by their success in Atlanta to try to outrun the Lynx. That would likely be a mistake. Obviously, if Indiana can get the ball in the open court, they should run it out (assuming they can finish, which has not always been the case in the playoffs to date). But they should take a page from Seattle's book, focus on defense, which has been a long suit for Indiana for years, and try to force a half-court game.

Advantage: Minnesota has the greater firepower, unless the Fever can force fouls and turnovers and control the pace of the game.

DEFENSE

Minnesota Lynx

2012 Minnesota Regular-Season Team Defensive Averages
RANK RPG OPP RPG DIFF RANK BPG OPP BPG DIFF RANK SPG OPP SPG DIFF
1 37.79 30.94 6.85 2 4.67 3.08 1.58 9 7.64 7.85 -0.2
2012 Minnesota Playoff Defensive Averages
RANK RPG OPP RPG DIFF RANK BPG OPP BPG DIFF RANK SPG OPP SPG DIFF
Western Conference Semifinals
3 36.7 34.0 2.7 2-tie 4.7 2.7 2.0 3-tie 8.0 7.3 0.7
Western Conference Finals
3 30.0 32.0 -2.0 4 2.5 4.0 -1.5 1 8.5 6.0 2.5
2012 Minnesota Lynx Combined Playoff Defensive Averages
3 34.0 33.2 0.8 4 3.8 3.2 0.6 3 8.2 6.8 1.4

Indiana Fever

2012 Indiana Fever Regular-Season Team Defensive Averages
RANK RPG OPP RPG DIFF RANK BPG OPP BPG DIFF RANK SPG OPP SPG DIFF
9 32.2 34.4 -2.2 4 4.3 4.9 -0.6 3 9.5 7.1 2.4
2012 Indiana Fever Playoff Defensive Averages
RANK RPG OPP RPG DIFF RANK BPG OPP BPG DIFF RANK SPG OPP SPG DIFF
Eastern Conference Semifinals
2 37.0 32.3 4.7 1 5.3 4.7 0.6 3-tie 8.0 12.7 -4.7
Eastern Conference Finals
4 28.3 31.0 -2.7 3 3.0 4.3 -1.3 2 7.7 4.3 3.4
2012 Indiana Fever Combined Playoff Offensive Averages
5 32.7 31.7 -1.0 2 4.2 4.5 -0.3 4 7.8 8.5 -0.7

We all know the old saw about offense winning games but defense winning championships. The problem is that the Lynx were not only the league's top-scoring team, but also one of its top defensive teams by several statistical measures. They were the league's top-rebounding team, a category in which the Fever finished ninth.

But take a closer look at the figures that underlie the rankings -- fewer than six rebounds per game separated the top-ranked Lynx from the ninth-ranked Fever in the regular season. And that was before Dunn pulled Larkins out of deep storage. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, there are now fewer than two rebounds per game separating these two teams. Which means if Indiana can put Brunson in foul trouble, and go hard to the boards as a team, they could stand a chance.

What's more, though the Lynx outpaced the Fever in blocks, another traditional defensive stat, the Fever held the upper hand in both steals per game and steals differential. It was exactly that kind of quick-handed, pestering defense that gave Minnesota fits against Seattle.

Another salient point is buried in the offensive statistical data: Indiana outperformed Minnesota when it came to points allowed, giving up just 72.3 points per game to opponents in the regular season, while the Lynx allowed their opponents 76.2 points a game. That statistic can be a bit deceptive because the Lynx faced Western Conference teams more often, which this year, featured several of the league's top-scoring franchises, while the Fever played more teams from the East, which included some of the WNBA's weakest-scoring teams. And even so, the Lynx outpaced the Fever when it came to scoring margin -- once again underscoring why the Fever don't want to get into a shoot-out with Minnesota.

And there are other reasons for the Fever faithful to take heart. Since the playoffs began, for example, the Fever have done a better job than Minnesota in defending the three-point arc, an area that will be absolutely crucial to Indiana's success or failure in this series. And over the course of the playoffs the Lynx' scoring has subsided a bit while the Fever's has picked up, narrowing the scoring gap between the two teams to only two points per game. (But again, take a look at which series took the biggest bite out of Minnesota's scoring advantage.)

Advantage: Minnesota, but not by as much as one might expect given the regular-season numbers.

INTANGIBLES

The Lynx will have had a week off to practice and rest after dispatching Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Fever have endured six tough games, the most recent of which wrapped up only Thursday. And Indiana could certainly have used the extra time to try to get Douglas back in the lineup. (But then again, both contenders who entered their Conference Finals having swept their semifinal series, will be watching the WNBA championship series on TV -- so maybe R&R isn't all it's cracked up to be at this time of year.)

The Lynx, on the other hand, hold home-court advantage in this series. The house was rocking last year when the playoffs came to Target Center, and the Lynx are getting plenty of help in recreating that atmosphere this season. Timberwolves' star Kevin Love bought up 500 tickets in the nosebleeds for Game One of the semifinals, then gave them away to fans to help fill the stands. Ricky Rubio followed suit for Game Three against Seattle, then the Minnesota Twins baseball team picked up where the T-Wolves left off, and now Minnesota Vikings football are footing the tab to make sure there are plenty of fans on hand to cheer on the home team when they tip off against the L.A. visitors. Few teams enjoy that kind of support from other area sports franchises.

Still, in 2009, the Fever showed they also knew how to fill the house, and everyone in town -- from cab drivers to waiters in establishments far from the arena -- seemed aware of the playoffs and were pulling hard for the home team. Even more importantly is the air of determination the Fever have brought to this year's playoff run. The Lynx seem relaxed, comfortable, with a quiet confidence. There's no question that after years of frustrating seasons, they'd like nothing more than a repeat. And they're not cocky or over-confident: Reeve is quick to dismiss talk of a Minnesota dynasty, letting her team's performance on the court speak for itself.

But there was a different air about the Fever in both of their conference series. Indiana is hungry, as are the Lynx, but more than that, the Fever are determined. Not desperate (though none of the team's stars is getting any younger), but determined that this will be their year.

You could see it when they bounced back after a disheartening Game One defeat in the semis, heading out on the road and putting more points on the scoreboard in Atlanta than that franchise had ever allowed on its home court before. You could see it in the way Briann January scrambled after her miss at the end of Game Two against Connecticut, finding a way to keep her team's season alive.

But you could see it most of all in Game Three of that series. Indiana was up by just eight points when the Fever saw one of their stars carried off the court with a little less than five minutes to go in the opening quarter. True, teams will often rally in the face of that kind of adversity -- but how long can that last against a team that is bigger and on many counts better.

The Sun quickly began cutting into that lead, closing to within four (12-8) over the next minute-and-a-half. But the Fever quickly turned things back around, regaining their eight-point advantage by the end of the first, surging ahead by almost 20 (43-24) by the end of the half, swelling the lead to 24 in the third quarter, and ultimately finding a way, against all odds, not just to win but to dominate.

Advantage: It's a close call, but I'll call this one in favor of Indiana. No question the Lynx are the champs until someone steps onto their home floor and takes it away from them, something no one's had much success with this year. No doubt they've had the better season, and on that basis you could say they deserve to win. But perhaps because they're so darned good, Minnesota hasn't been tested much this season, and it's hard to argue against the kind of mental toughness has shown to this point in the playoffs.

PREDICTION

As previously noted, the safe money is on the Lynx to repeat. Based on the numbers and the cold, hard data, we have to call it Minnesota in four games. That said, we wouldn't be a bit surprised by an upset, so I for one will be keeping that money where it's even safer -- in my wallet!


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Lee Michaelson's picture
Member since:
20 September 2011
Last activity:
2 weeks 5 days

Just an update on Katie Douglas' status: The Fever shipped her straight back to Indy after Game Three against Connecticut. She didn't travel with the team to Minnesota on Saturday, and did not join the team in Minneapolis for Game 1. Somehow the Fever managed to get it done with out her, and as predicted this is turning into a much more interesting series than many predicted. Douglas is still listed as day-to-day, so her status for Game Two is unknown. Some consideration had been given to flying Douglas out on a charter flight, but my strong suspicion is that since Dunn encouraged Douglas to stay home and rehab the ankle (she has actually said the pain strikes her entire leg, not just the ankle), rather than fly her out for Game 1, odds are that Douglas will sit out (at least) Game 2 as well. The Fever did what they needed to do in Game 1. While the Lynx will no doubt adjust for Game 2, Indiana is now in a position to head back to Indy on Thursday, then take care of business at home on Friday (and Sunday, if Minnesota evens things up on Wednesday). Rather than have her flying back and forth between Indy and Minny (and thus be putting weight on the injured leg) just so she can -- at best -- hobble around the court for a couple of days in shootarounds, Dunn will probably give her the week to heal, and see if she's good for even limited minutes when they get back to Indy on Thusday.