A look at the two WNBA conference finals series, which start Thursday:
NO. 1 CONNECTICUT (25-9) VS. NO 2 INDIANA (22-12)
Season Series: Sun won 3-1, including a sweep of the two games at home.
Connecticut: The Sun swept the Liberty in two games in the opening round to reach the conference finals for the first time since 2006. Connecticut has now won seven of its last eight games, including a victory against Indiana during the final week of the season. Coming off the franchise's fourth regular-season conference title -- first since taking three straight from 2004-06 -- the Sun are seeking their first trip to the WNBA Finals since making back-to-back appearances in 2004-05. Connecticut did not lost consecutive games all year, and had just two stretches in which they lost two of three. The Sun were 18-4 in conference play during the season and also went a WNBA-best 13-4 on the road. Tina Charles (18.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg), who was selected for her first MVP award, averaged 21.0 points in the opening round against New York and had 14 rebounds in Game 2. Asjha Jones (12.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg) missed 14 games due to a strained left Achilles tendon before returning in the final week, and averaged 15.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in the first round. Veteran guard Kara Lawson, mostly a reserve in her 10-year career, started at least 30 games for the third time and averaged career highs in scoring (15.1), assists (4.0) and rebounds (3.9). She also set the franchise-mark with 74 3-pointers made. Renee Montgomery (11.6 ppg), a former starter, was the league's Sixth Woman of the Year. Charles averaged 14.3 points and 11.3 rebounds, and Lawson 21.0 points in the three wins against Indiana, but combined for 16 points in the loss.
Indiana: After matching the franchise record for victories set in 2009, the Fever overpowered Atlanta in the decisive Game 3 of their opening-round series to advance to the conference finals for the third time in four years. Indiana is now seeking its second trip to the WNBA Finals -- first since losing to Phoenix in five games in 2009. The Fever and Sun are meeting in the postseason for the second time -- Connecticut won in a sweep in the conference finals in 2005, and Indiana won in three games in conference semis in 2007. The Fever have won four of five since a three-game losing streak down the stretch knocked them out of contention for the top overall seed in the East -- and home-court advantage in this series. Tamika Catchings (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.1 apg) and Katie Douglas (16.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.2 apg) set the tone for the Fever, but they also get strong contributions from Briann January (10.3 ppg, 3.9 apg) and Shavonte Zellous (7.5 ppg). Erlana Larkins came up big in the opening round against Atlanta, averaging 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds -- including a 16-point, 20-rebound performance in the finale. January and Zellous returned for the postseason after both missed the last three games due of the season due to concussion-like symptoms. January averaged 16.7 points against the Dream and Zellous had 14 in the Fever's Game 2 win at Atlanta. Indiana shot a WNBA-best 40 percent on 3-pointers, but was under 30 percent (14 for 47) in the opening round. January scored 20 points and Catchings had 13 points and 10 rebounds in the Fever's 95-61 win against Connecticut during the season.
Prediction: Connecticut in 3.
NO. 1 MINNESOTA (27-7) VS. NO. 2 LOS ANGELES (24-10)
Season series: Tied 2-2, with the home team winning each game.
Minnesota: The defending champions edged Seattle 73-72 at home in Game 3 of the conference semis after losing Game 2 on the road in double-overtime. The Lynx matched their franchise record for wins set a year ago, largely due to a 10-game win streak to open the season and then an 11-game run that followed their only losing streak -- a three-skid in the first week of July. The Lynx have been tough to beat at home, improving to 18-1 at the Target Center this year. However, Minnesota is now 5-4 in its last nine games overall. The Lynx also lost once in the conference semis a year ago and then swept Phoenix and Atlanta to win the franchise's first title. Seimone Augustus (16.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) appears fully recovered from a sprained right foot that forced her to miss three games down the stretch as she averaged 20.0 points and 5.7 rebounds in the opening round against the Storm. Maya Moore (16.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.6 apg) picked up her production in her second season and Rebekkah Brunson (11.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg) averaged 16.7 points and 11.7 boards against Seattle. Lindsay Whalen (11.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.4 apg) could be slowed by a wrist injury on her left hand sustained in first quarter of Game 3 of the first round. Minnesota led the league in scoring (85.9), but was held to 79.7 by the Storm. The Lynx, tied for tops in 3-point shooting at 40 percent during the season, were also just 31 percent (11 for 35) from beyond the arc in the opening round. Augustus averaged 24.0 points in the the two wins against the Sparks, and 13.0 in the losses.
Los Angeles: In their first year under coach Carol Ross, the Sparks are back in the conference finals for the first time since 2009. Now, Los Angeles, which swept San Antonio in the opening round, will be vying for its first trip to the WNBA Finals since winning consecutive championships in 2001 and 2002 -- the last time a team won back-to-back titles. The Sparks, who had their highest win total since going 25-9 in 2006, have won seven of their last eight overall. They tied with Minnesota for the league's best home mark during the season -- 16-1 -- and Game 2 will be back at Staples Center after the opener against the Silver Stars was played at USC's Galen Center due to a "Batman Live" show at Staples. Los Angeles has a dominant lineup as the five regular starters accounted for 82 percent of the scoring during the season. Kristi Toliver (17.5 ppg, 4.9 apg) led the way and was selected as the league's most improved player. Candace Parker (17.4 ppg, 9.7 ppg), healthy the entire season for the first time since 2008, led the league with 76 blocks. Nneka Ogwumike (14.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) should win Rookie of the Year honors. Alana Beard (11.4 ppg) bounced back after missing the last two seasons with Washington due to injuries, and DeLisha Milton-Jones (10.0 ppg) rounds out the starting lineup. Los Angeles was second in scoring (84.0) during the season, is tops in the playoffs at 97.0. Parker averaged 25.0 points and 12.0 rebounds in the Sparks' two wins against the Lynx, and 14.5 points and 6.0 in the two losses.
Prediction: Minnesota in 3.