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WNBA Finals Preview: Atlanta vs. Minnesota
By: Steve Bennett - StatFox
Published: 10/2/2011  at  8:21:00 AM
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2011 WNBA Finals Preview

ATLANTA DREAM (24-15)

vs. MINNESOTA LYNX (31-8)

Series Schedule (Best of 5):
Game 1 at MIN: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EDT
Game 2 at MIN: Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. EDT
Game 3 at ATL: Friday, 8:00 p.m. EDT
Game 4 at ATL: Sunday, Oct. 9, 4:00 p.m. EDT (if necessary)
Game 5 at MIN: Wednesday, Oct. 12, 8:00 p.m. EDT (if necessary)

The WNBA Finals tip-off Sunday night, with the Atlanta Dream back as the underdog, this time against the Minnesota Lynx.

The Lynx swept the regular season series from Atlanta, winning handily both times. While those meetings were back in June, Minnesota still clearly has the edge. This is the first trip to the Finals for the Lynx. They have the best record in the WNBA, the right mix of young talent (Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore) and veteran experience (Taj McWilliams-Franklin), not to mention home-court advantage, where the Lynx are 17-3 SU at home this year. Minnesota has won 13 of its past 15 games, and easily disposed of Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. None of their past three games were closer than 17 points. Plus, the Western Conference has won 11 of 14 WNBA titles, and among Eastern Conference teams, only Detroit has won it all. The pick here is MINNESOTA to win the series.

The Dream were swept in the Finals by Seattle a year ago. This year’s team is playing some hard-nosed defense in the postseason, holding opponents to 39% shooting, and the strong play of Angel McCoughtry (18.4 PPG in the playoffs) has led a balanced offensive attack. But the emergence of Izi Castro Marques is what pushed them back into the finals. After coming off the bench in their first three playoff games, the Brazilian swingman moved into the starting lineup after a Game 1 loss to Indiana and went for 30 in Game 2 and 23 in Game 3, shooting 54% from the field and 7-for-12 from three in those games. It was a stunning turnaround, and considering Castro Marques’ regular-season numbers (7.6 PPG, 36% FG, 21% 3-pt FG), it also may have been a fluke.

The teams played a home-and-home on June 17 and 19, with the Lynx winning easily both times, 96-85 at home, then 77-64 in Atlanta. They shot just 6-for-25 from three in those two games, but Augustus was nearly unstoppable in the paint. She averaged 22.0 PPG while shooting 59% from the field and 11-for-12 from the line in the two games. She’s averaging 20.4 PPG on 49% shooting from the field and 14-of-15 from the line through five postseason games. And Moore, who won two national titles at the University of Connecticut, hasn’t shrunk in her first WNBA postseason, averaging 15.2 PPG and shooting 46% from three.

A big part of the reason Minnesota won those two games easily in June was the defensive job point guard Lindsay Whalen did on Lindsey Harding, the Atlanta point guard. Harding, who averaged 10.5 PPG on 46% shooting and 4.8 APG during the regular season, shot 5-for-21 and handed out a total of four assists in those losses. McCoughtry scored 27 in the teams’ first meeting, but was held to 10 in the second, and her 2-for-13 shooting was a big contributor to Atlanta’s 30% shooting from the field.

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