A look at the four first-round series in the WNBA playoffs, which start Thursday:
No. 1 Atlanta (19-15) vs. No. 4 Chicago (15-19)
Season Series: Sky won 3-2.
Atlanta: The Dream looked good for the first three months of the season before struggling in August and dropping 10 of their final 14 games. The losing skid coincided with the loss of coach Michael Cooper, who missed a half dozen games while dealing with tongue cancer. Angel McCoughtry is the heart and soul of the team, leading the league in steals again. The Dream have reached the WNBA finals in three of the past four seasons, but have yet to win a game in the championship round.
Chicago: No team was more decimated by injuries this season than the Sky and yet Chicago earned a playoff spot for the second straight season. Reigning rookie of the year Elena Delle Donne missed 18 games while recovering from a recurrence of Lyme disease. She’s working her way back to being completely healthy but still only playing just over 20 minutes a game. Point guard Courtney Vandersloot just returned from a knee injury that forced her to miss 16 games.
Prediction: Sky in 3.
No. 2 Indiana (16-18) vs. No. 3 Washington (15-19)
Season series: Tied 2-2, with the road team winning each matchup.
Indiana: The Fever will try to make one more run for coach Lin Dunn, who is retiring at the end of the season. Indiana was on the outside of the playoffs heading into the final week of the season before winning three straight to secure the No. 2 seed. Tamika Catchings missed the team’s first 17 games while recovering from a back injury. The 35-year-old averaged 23 points during the winning streak and still brings the energy that drives the Fever.
Washington: The Mystics are the youngest team in the playoffs, reaching the postseason for the second straight year under coach Mike Thibault. They struggled down the stretch dropping five of their final eight games. Thibault’s young group is led by All-Star Ivory Latta and Emma Meesseman. The Mystics advanced to the conference finals last season before losing to Atlanta. They lost the only matchup with the Fever in the playoffs in 2009.
Prediction: Fever in 2.
No. 1 Phoenix (29-5) vs. No. 4 Los Angeles (16-18)
Season series: Phoenix won 5-0.
Phoenix: It was a record-setting year for the Mercury, who won 16 straight games en route to a league best 29 wins. That topped the previous mark of 28 set by the Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm. Phoenix had a 16-game winning streak in the middle of the season — the second best ever in the WNBA. Led by veterans Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor as well as second-year star Brittney Griner the Mercury don’t have too many weaknesses. They beat the Sparks by an average of 14.5 points although three of those wins did come by single digits.
Los Angeles: It was a season of change for the Sparks, starting with the ownership in February. A group led by Magic Johnson took over the team providing stability to the franchise. After struggling with inconsistent play in the first half of the year, general manager Penny Toler made a coaching change by removing Carol Ross and putting herself in charge. The team went 6-6 after Toler took over. The Sparks are talented enough to cause problems for the Mercury, led by 2013 MVP Candace Parker as well as Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver.
Prediction: Mercury in 2.
No. 2 Minnesota (25-9) vs. No. 3 San Antonio (16-18)
Season series: Minnesota won 4-1.
Minnesota: The defending champion Lynx had their own injury problems this season. Rebekkah Brunson, Devereaux Peters and Monica Wright all missed the start of the season with a variety of ailments. The team didn’t seem to skip a beat thanks to Maya Moore, who led the league in scoring. She scored over 30 points in a WNBA record 12 games, including a 48-point effort — the second best in league history. Moore has help with fellow Olympians Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen. Minnesota did falter down the stretch, dropping three of its final four games. Still, the Lynx will be trying to reach the finals for a fourth straight year.
San Antonio: The Stars have a nice mixture of veterans and youth and hope to send Becky Hammon off with her first WNBA championship. The 16-year veteran announced in the middle of the season that she’d be retiring at the end of the year. She is getting a major assist for stellar rookie Kayla McBride, who led the team in scoring at 13.0 points. The Stars have a balanced offense with four players averaging in double figures and two more at over 8 points a game.
Prediction: Lynx in 2.
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