No one on the Los Angeles Sparks or Minnesota Lynx really likes to talk about it, but deep down inside most of them knew this is how it was going to end.
The two best teams in the WNBA meeting in the finals again. Ready to go at each other like a year ago in a tense, entertaining and down-to-the-wire finish that ended on a last-second shot in Game 5 to give the Sparks the championship.
“We assumed it would be us two again, with the way they’ve been playing and the way we’ve been playing,” Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said. “It was almost inevitable, like it was going to happen. We’re happy that we do face the Sparks and try to get some redemption from last year.”
Round 2 between the Sparks and Lynx begin Sunday in Minneapolis, and there is so much on the line.
For Los Angeles, it’s a chance to be the first repeat champion in 15 years, a chance for Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike to draw a direct line from them to Lisa Leslie as the Sparks champions from 2001 and 2002.
“It would be historic, especially considering the last team to do it was this team,” Ogwumike said on Saturday. “We’ll see what happens.”
For Minnesota, it’s the chance to soak up a sixth finals appearance in the last seven years. That puts the Lynx in the same sentence as the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Montreal Canadiens and New York Yankees as pro teams to make a run like that. And as the years go by for a Lynx core that has won three championships, each new trip to this stage could be the last.
“I guess we cherish these moments a little bit more,” Augustus said. “Now our window of time is starting to close and people are trying to figure out their next career path in life after basketball. You really do buckle down and think about these moments and cherish the things we’ve done here and the history we’ve made.”
For both franchises, the chance to capture championship No. 4, which would tie the Houston Comets for most in league history.
Here are some things to watch in the highly anticipated rematch:
STARS ALIGN: It’s a dream matchup for the league, filled with stars on both sides. Parker, Ogwumike and Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard lead the way for the Sparks. Augustus, Maya Moore, MVP Sylvia Fowles and Lindsay Whalen headline for the Lynx.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Despite the Sparks’ history of success, none of the major players on the roster had ever been to a finals before last season. They come back this year fully aware of what to expect and better prepared to match up with the championship-experienced Lynx. “Last year we were going in blind, except for (coach Brian Agler),” Ogwumike said. “It’s a lot less frantic, but sometimes the frantic is fun. You still feel the frenzy, but now you know what you’re walking into.”
FOWLES’ INVOLVEMENT: Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said her biggest regret from last year’s series is that they got away from getting the ball to Fowles in the paint down the stretch of Game 5. They reconfigured their offense to feature Fowles more this season, and she delivered with her first MVP award. Ogwumike is preparing for a big dose of Fowles all series long. “She’s the MVP, so they better pass it in there,” Ogwumike said. “It’s going to be a challenge and I’m going to stay out of foul trouble.”
BEARD VS. MAYA: Beard has enjoyed a career renaissance over the last few years as a lockdown defender, and she has had success against Minnesota’s dynamic Moore in the past. Beard compared defending Moore to defending Phoenix star Diana Taurasi, and said she’s going to need plenty of help. “You can’t limit Maya,” Beard said. “She’s been an MVP. It’s not an individual task. It’s a team task.”
HOME SWEET HOME? The Lynx are playing their home games in the playoffs at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Renovations at Target Center forced the Lynx to play at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in the regular season and then at Williams Arena in the playoffs. So do they have a home-court advantage when they’ve only played two games here all season long?
“When our fans come in here and make the noise, they make it feel like home no matter where we are,” Fowles said. “It definitely feels like home.”