On paper, this 2013 WNBA Western Conference Finals is the Minnesota's to lose.
They've reached the WNBA Finals each of the last two years, they've beaten their opponent, the Phoenix Mercury, all five times the two teams have met this season, and the Lynx feature three All-WNBA performers to Phoenix' one.
Fortunately for the Mercury, these games are played on hardwood, not paper, and a significant amount has changed since these two teams last met.
WHAT WE KNOW:
For the Mercury it starts at the top, with former University of Arizona Head Coach Russ Pennell as the man leading the Mercury in to battle, his first time facing the Lynx as Mercury head coach since he replaced five-year veteran of the same post Corey Gaines, who was dismissed on August 9.
The Mercury are 9-4 under Pennell.
It will also benefit Phoenix to have their two best players, Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, available against the Lynx, a luxury they did not have the last time these two teams met, an 81-69 Lynx win. Taurasi was serving a suspension after passing the league maximum for technicals fouls in a season, and Griner, who also missed the two teams fourth matchup of the year three days prior, was nursing a left knee sprain.
Pennell preaches a defense-first attitude, one the Mercury badly need after giving up a league-worst 80.3 points per game. Since Pennell took over, Phoenix has surrendered that amount or more just seven of their 13 games under the new head man.
Minnesota has faced far fewer issues than Phoenix this year, with a consistently strong coach at the helm in Cheryl Reeves, a confident and productive veteran point guard in Lindsey Whalen, and a MVP runner-up in Maya Moore.
In their five matchups, Minnesota has beaten Phoenix by an average of 16 points per game, and if there is one nightmare matchup for the Mercury's shoddy D, it's Minnesota's best-in-the-league O.
WHAT THEY KNOW:
MinnPost has us assured that Moore is as focused as ever on the task at hand despite occasional distractions.
Fox Sports North reminds us of the Lynx dominance, reiterating that the squad hasn't lost to Phoenix in over two years.
And Vegas Insider says it simply, but perhaps most effectively, setting the Lynx as a nine-point favorite.
LINE OF THE SERIES:
In the end, it comes from many Minnesota sports fans, whether they say it with depression because all the other hometown teams are so terrible, or with exuberance that this franchise is so consistent. However they say it, we think it's the highest possible compliment you can give a team when you say: Hey, at least we still have the Lynx.