WNBA Playoffs Down to Final Four
The WNBA conference finals series open Wednesday, a final foursome of familiar names, both on the front and the backs of the jerseys.
Detroit and Indiana meet for the fourth straight postseason, while L.A. and Phoenix match up in the conference final for the second time in three years.
Each series is a best-of-three affair, in which the team with the higher seed plays the final two games at home.
Three of these four teams -- Phoenix, Los Angeles and Detroit already have a championship trophy in the case.
Detroit (3) vs. Indiana (1)
Season Series: Indiana 3-1
Detroit comes in with the history -- four straight appearances in the conference finals and three league titles -- but Indiana's hungry for its first trip to the WNBA Finals.
The Fever appear ready to give the Shock a run, to break through the Detroit wall that has blocked them from a shot at the title.
Indiana, playing in its second conference finals series in three years, had the best record in the Eastern Conference this season at 22-12, and home-court advantage in the best-of-three series.
The Fever also have one of the league's most underappreciated superstars in Tamika Catchings. Catchings sealed Indiana's opening-round series win over Washington with a combined 50 points and 28 rebounds in two games.
But Detroit is an undeniable barrier. Indiana is 0-3 against the Shock in postseason series. The Fever's only loss to Detroit this season came in overtime.
"They've spoiled a lot of things for us over the past few years," Fever forward Ebony Hoffman told the Indianapolis Star earlier this week. "We're ready for them."
Detroit needed a big late-season rally to reach the postseason, but it's tough to doubt that once there, the Shock players felt right at home. Detroit's roster includes nine players who have won 16 combined WNBA titles.
The Shock likely won't have Olympian Katie Smith available for the series. Smith has been out since late-August with a back injury. Guard Deanna Nolan, who shook off the concussion she sustained in game two of the series, came back to score 22 to send Detroit to the next round.
Nolan is Detroit's go-to offensive player, particularly without Smith available to play.
A Detroit series win would give the Shock their fourth straight appearance in the WNBA Finals, a feat matched only by the Houston Comets (1997-2000).
Prediction: This is Indiana's year. The Fever are deep and hungry and ready to take the next step.
(3) Los Angeles vs. (1) Phoenix
Season Series: Phoenix, 3-1
Who else but Diana Taurasi could propel Phoenix into the conference finals on Monday night with a 30-point effort? And now the Mercury play for a chance to play for their second league title.
It's also time for three of the league's biggest stars -- Taurasi and L.A.'s Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie -- to do battle at the top of the marquee.
Taurasi has been as good in the postseason as she was all year, as the league's leading scorer and its most unstoppable offensive player.
But she has plenty of support. Cappie Pondexter scored 17 points Monday night against San Antonio. Tangela Smith added 16 points and eight rebounds.
Five players -- DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor added 11 each -- scored in double figures, cementing the Mercury's status as one of the deepest teams in the league.
Los Angeles has depth as well, most of it in the post, where Olympians abound with Parker and Leslie and Tina Thompson and DeLisha Milton-Jones.
The Sparks are also well-rested, having dispatched Seattle in three games last weekend.
Parker scored 22 points in the series-finale win over Seattle on Saturday.
Phoenix won all but one game in the season series, including both games in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. L.A. won the regular-season finale with Taurasi resting up on the bench.
The Sparks' home game in this series will be played at Pauley Pavilion at UCLA.
Prediction: Phoenix survives in a thriller of a series.