The Mercury and Lynx meet in the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four years. Game 1 of the series begins Friday, August 29 at US Airways Center.
To preview the series, we caught up with two of the absolute best analysts in women"s basketball: LaChina Robinson and Ann Meyers Drysdale. Robinson can be found on the ESPN family of networks, FOX and NBA-TV (Turner). And I"m pretty sure every member of the X-Factor knows how amazing and legendary Annie Meyers Drysdale is.
When Brittney Griner is directly involved in the flow of the game on both ends of the floor, the Mercury is a tough team to beat. In fact, Robinson believes that is one of the biggest keys of the series.
"The key for Phoenix is to work through Griner on both ends," Robinson said. "On offense when she touches the ball, the defense has a decision to make because she can't be defended one-on-one.
"On defense, channel the ball towards the rim and she will take it from there."
4. Trying to Stop Maya Moore
This year's MVP, Maya Moore, has been on an absolute tear in 2014.
Not only does she play lock-down defense, she's even more lethal offensively. Moore became the first player in league history to post four-straight games of 30 or more points and finished the regular season with a league-record 12 games of 30-plus points, surpassing the previous mark of 10 set by the Mercury"s Diana Taurasi in 2008.
"Stop Maya Moore? Can't stop her," Meyers Drysdale said. "She's the MVP and is going to score. You can only make it difficult for her, and the Mercury's defense has been at the top against their opponents all season long."
Robinson echoes Meyers Drysdale"s sentiments.
"I don't think it's possible to stop Maya Moore, but you can try to slow her down and make life difficult for her," Robinson said. "For Phoenix it will take a team effort " knowing where she is at all times and making sure that she always has someone in her back pocket.
"Make her work for the catch, make her take contested shots, no easy baskets"easier said than done."
So who gets the difficult assignment of what is virtually an impossible task?
"DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor will probably get the nod, but I"m sure there will be lots of switches with different defense on Moore to make her take tough shots," Meyers Drysdale added. "Similar to what they did with Candace Parker of the Sparks. [Moore] is going to score, the Mercury just have to do a good job on their other scorers, too."
3. What is the Mercury"s X-Factor in This Series?
The 2014 Western Conference Finals is full of superstars " the Coach of the Year (Sandy Brondello), Defensive Player of the Year (Brittney Griner) and a combined six All-Stars (Whalen, Augustus, Moore, Taurasi, Griner, Dupree).
However, the series could come down to the x-factors (no pun intended) on each team.
"Erin Phillips and Shay Murphy off the bench will be key for Phoenix," Robinson said. "Erin has "big game genes" and the experience of winning a WNBA championship in Indiana. She can relieve Diana at the point, hit big threes and is a tough, physical defender.
"For Shay, her defense will be needed to relieve the starters and she also has the ability to hit big shots."
While Erin and Shay will undoubtedly be vital for the Mercury, Meyers Drysdale thinks it will take an enhanced effort by the entire team to beat Minnesota.
"Everyone needs to step up," Meyers Drysdale said with conviction. "When you have a leader like Diana Taurasi that has been in so many championship games at all levels, she knows what the stakes are: play your best or go home."
2. Brondello"s Insatiable Way of Preparing
"Coach John Wooden used to say, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,"" Meyers Drysdale said about Brondello. "Sandy is one of the most detailed-oriented coaches around. Practice is the homework and the game is the test. The Mercury has done their homework and now they need to go out and pass the test."
If Sandy Brondello is anything, she"s prepared.
"The Lynx are a great team," Sandy Brondello said. "They"re well-coached; it"s more like a chess [match]. Our key this year has really been our cohesiveness on both ends of the floor. Our strength lies in our team defense. I"m very attention to detail focused, and the team enjoys the preparation.
"Every game is fun for me; the bigger the game, the better."
In fact, the Mercury as a team has adopted the same mindset. They watch more game film than ever, and have learned to make critical adjustments both on the fly and game-to-game.
"Sandy's been preparing this team all season for a championship run," Robinson said. "In the end, you are the sum of what you consistently do. Winning championships is not about what you do in that moment; it"s about all the work you did to prepare for it.
"Sandy has Phoenix ready to go."
1. Execution and Appreciation
For two teams as closely matched as the Mercury and Lynx are, it may very well come down to the intangibles and basics of basketball such as taking care of the ball and following through with the game plan.
As Brondello said after practice on Wednesday, whoever executes the best should win the game.
"What a great matchup again for the Western Conference Finals," Meyers Drysdale said. "These two teams have developed into a fun rivalry to watch. It will come down to execution. We know that both teams want it, but who will hit the big shot, come up with the loose ball, hit free throws, turn it over in crucial times, get a big rebound or make a defensive play when it"s needed?
"The Mercury has to continue playing like they have all season long"team ball and having fun."