NEW YORK (AP) – With the WNBA playoffs set to begin Thursday night, here are five things to know:
CHAMPIONSHIP FAVORITE: The Phoenix Mercury secured home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by winning a WNBA-record 29 games this season. Still Diana Taurasi was quick to deflect any talk of who’s the favorite to win the title, deferring to the Minnesota Lynx, who finished second in the West.
“They’re the defending champs, they’re the best team in this league,” said Taurasi.
FOND FAREWELLS: Indiana coach Lin Dunn and San Antonio player Becky Hammon will see their careers come to an end when the playoffs end. The two have meant so much to the league and both of their teams would love to send them out on top.
“It definitely is a little extra for us,” said Indiana’s Tamika Catchings. “Coach has meant so much to the sport that it would be great to make one more run for her.”
While Dunn announced her retirement before the season started, Hammon waited until last month to make it official. She then made headlines a few weeks later when it was announced she would become the first full-time paid female assistant coach for an NBA team, joining the San Antonio Spurs.
HEALTHY SKY: No team was more decimated by injuries this season than the Sky and yet Chicago earned a playoff spot for the second straight season. Now that the Sky are completely healthy, they could be poised to make a run in the playoffs despite being the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“There’s definitely glimpses where we see the whole team back together and things just really clicking,” said Elena Delle Donne, who missed 18 games while recovering from a recurrence of Lyme disease. “Obviously we haven’t been able to play together for a long time, but we’re just hoping that all this adversity will help us in the playoffs.”
Chicago won the East last year but faltered in the playoffs, losing to Indiana in the first round. Delle Donne hopes for a different outcome this season.
“Last year it felt like everything was going great and then we finally hit adversity in the playoffs and just obviously didn’t pull through there,” she said. “Hopefully now it’s kind of been an opposite season for us, tons of adversity, and we’re hoping that will get us going through the playoffs.”
Chicago was also missing point guard Courtney Vandersloot for 16 games because of a knee injury. Center Sylvia Fowles missed the first part of the season because of offseason hip surgery.
ACE VS. ICE: A key matchup in the Phoenix-LA series could be Candace Parker and Candice Dupree. Parker missed two of the Sparks’ five losses to the Mercury this season, but was a big factor in the two games that Los Angeles lost by five points. She averaged 25 points and 9.5 boards in those games.
Dupree had a stellar season averaging 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds and provided a consistent scoring option.
DREAM VS. REALITY: The Atlanta Dream have reached the WNBA finals in three of the past four seasons and were en route to one of the best seasons in franchise history before struggling down the stretch with losses in 10 of their final 14 games.
Part of that coincided with coach Michael Cooper’s leave of absence to deal with tongue cancer. Cooper’s back, but star Angel McCoughtry has been bothered by tendinitis in her foot. To make it back to the championship round, the Dream will need a healthy McCoughtry.
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