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2011 WNBA Finals: Atlanta Dream, Minnesota Lynx Have Both Improved Since Regular Season Series

Well, that was quite a statement the Atlanta Dream made tonight.

With their 83-67 rout of the Indiana Fever in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Dream advanced to their second consecutive WNBA Finals.

Somebody will get a franchise-first championship and have a compelling story to go along with it.

And while the Lynx are probably a reasonable favorite at this point, it's hard anoint them champions just yet.

The 2011 WNBA Finals schedule - a five game series - is available at (click here).

Below are the scores of the relevant regular season meetings for each series (with links to the stats via Lynx Data, with efficiency, Four Factors, plus/minus, and miscellaneous stats).

#1 Minnesota Lynx vs. #3 Atlanta Dream

Regular season: Lynx 2-0

First game: Sunday, October 2 at 7:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN

Regular season review

Date Location Score Note
June 17 Minnesota 96-85 Lynx Sancho Lyttle absent
June 19 Atlanta 77-64 Lynx Lyttle absent

This regular season series means absolutely nothing - at this point, not only are the Dream an entirely different team, but the Lynx have made huge strides since June.

Quick summary:

  • Lyttle was away from the team playing for the Spanish National Team in the 2011 Eurobasket during those games. Her presence against the Lynx in the Finals, the best rebounding team in the league, is significant.
  • Also significant given the Lynx' rebounding prowess would be the return of Dream center Erika de Souza. Her return is obviously the most important thing to watch for this series right now.
  • It's worth noting that the Dream have been forcing turnovers at a higher rate in their second half run and they did have some success creating turnovers in that second game.
  • Iziane Castro Marques: 26.5 points per game in the Dream's two Eastern Conference Finals wins. Can she possibly keep up this pace against a strong Lynx defense?
  • A more subtle point that we've been discussing throughout the season: Lindsey Harding has made huge strides as the season has worn on and she just had 20 assists to only 5 turnovers in the Eastern Conference Finals. It will make a big difference for a team that thrives on transition offense and driving to the basket.
  • Here's a question as food for thought: Will the Dream look to this small lineup more often since it worked so well against the Lynx? The Lynx have the personnel to quickly take them out of it, but they did just discomfit a very talented Indiana Fever team with that small ball lineup, MVP Tamika Catchings' injury notwithstanding.
  • I know this has been entirely about the Dream because there are so many more question marks surrounding them, but Candice Wiggins' play in the Western Conference playoffs is also noteworthy. What stands out about Wiggins' play is that she's giving the team quality minutes as a reserve point guard and against a Dream team that likes to force turnovers, her ability to step in and assume ball handling responsibility will be huge for the Lynx.

The safe pick for this series is obviously the Lynx - they're an awesomely balanced team and it's hard to pick against them in any sort of best-of-whatever series situation. Just as we've seen the Dream adapt with different lineups, the Lynx can do something different on nearly every possession down the floor.

That said, it's hard to count out the Dream after beating the odds to make it to the WNBA Finals for a second year in a row - this team has proven that the odds don't mean much for two years in a row now.

So for now, let's keep the poll question simple: How many games will the 2011 WNBA Finals series go?

Feel free to drop your insights, links, and even go out on a limb that I was too scared to go out on and predict a winner in the comments.