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Heavyweight battle: 5 major keys to Eastern Conference Finals

The Fever eliminated the league MVP to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals, while the Liberty persevered through a tough series with Washington to make it to the second round for the first time since 2010. With the Eastern Conference finals starting tonight, what focal points will define this matchup?

Frank McGrath/Indiana Fever

Less than twenty-four hours after their nail-biting victory against Washington, New York will play in their first Eastern Conference finals game in five years. The Liberty dropped their first game against the Mystics in another close contest, winning 86-83 in double overtime.

But New York bounced back, stifling the Mystics defensively in Washington, then securing a game three victory in front of an energetic and boisterous Madison Square Garden behind Tina Charles' team-high 22 points.

Like New York, Indiana also lost their opening game of the 2015 WNBA Playoffs, falling 72-77 to a Chicago Sky team that leaned less on Elena Delle Donne and more on a balanced offensive attack, aggressive rebounding, and second-chance points. The Fever, however, took advantage of another quiet game from Delle Donne in game 2, and won their first game against Chicago this season, after going 0-5 against the Sky all season long.

The 2015 MVP finally exploded in game 3 for 40 points, but Tamika Catchings 12 points in the fourth quarter helped catapult the Fever to their fifth consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, despite Delle Donne's performance.

For the Liberty, it's a welcome return to the Conference Finals. For the Fever, it's business as usual on a familiar stage.

Keys to the Series

The Return of Carolyn Swords? Starting center Carolyn Swords missed the decisive third game of the Liberty's series against the Mystics with a foot injury, and according to head coach Bill Laimbeer, she's day to day.

New York has already proven they can win in the playoffs without Swords; a backcourt rotation of Tina Charles and Kiah Stokes can handle the load on both ends of the floor, especially with Avery Warley-Talbert filling in minutes at the five when necessary.

If Swords is not at full health by tip-off tonight, the Liberty might be better suited to letting her rest. Game two of the series won't be until Sunday night, giving Swords plenty of time to get back to 100 percent.

Home Court Advantage: Madison Square Garden has been electric in the postseason. The Liberty's two home games in the Conference semi-finals drew an average of 9,700 fans. After game three, both coach and players noted how much the crowd affected the energy and momentum of the game.

The quick turnaround for the start of the conference finals, however, doesn't bode well for attendance. With less than a day to fill the seats, it will be interesting to see exactly what kind of crowd shows up at MSG tonight.

Regular Season Foreshadowing? Indiana was dominant over New York during the regular season. The Fever lost their third game of the season to the Liberty, in Tamika Catchings season debut after a knee injury kept her out of the team's first two games.

But since then, the Liberty haven't managed to best Indiana, losing twice by double-digits earlier in the season. It goes without saying that the postseason is a different animal entirely, but Indiana has to feel confident coming into this series.