The No. 1 and 2 seeds in the league will meet for the first game of the 2016 WNBA Finals on Sunday in Minnesota after running roughshod throughout the league. The Minnesota Lynx set a franchise record by going 28-6 this year, and they advanced to the Finals with a dominant sweep of the Phoenix Mercury. The Los Angeles Sparks went 26-8 in the regular season and beat the Chicago Sky in four games in the last round.
The Lynx and Sparks originally met June 21 this season when they were both undefeated, and Minnesota took the first matchup 72-69. Just three days later, the Sparks got their revenge in a 94-76 win in Minneapolis. Most recently, Minnesota beat Los Angeles 77-74 on Sept. 6.
The Lynx are no stranger to the Finals. As the reigning champs, the team is making its fifth trip to the Finals in the last six years. Of these trips, Minnesota has come away with the championship title three times and is seeking a fourth ring.
The Sparks on the other hand haven’t been to the Finals since 2003 when they lost to the Detroit Shock 2-1, and their last championship title dates back to 2002. Last season, the Lynx knocked them out of the playoffs in a Game 3 matchup to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Both of these offenses have the ability to light up the scoreboard. The Lynx finished with the best offensive rating in the WNBA, scoring 107.2 points per 100 possessions. The Sparks weren’t far behind at 106.6 points per 100 possessions. On the accuracy spectrum, Los Angeles finished first in the league by shooting 48.7 percent from the field, but the Lynx ran a close second at 47.1 percent.
Maya Moore led a star-studded Lynx roster in points per game in the regular season with 19.3, and she has consistently stepped her game up in the postseason as well. In the playoffs last year, Moore averaged 23.4 points per game during Minnesota’s run to the championship, and she recorded 25.7 points per contest in the last series against Phoenix.
Moore may be the star, but she has gotten plenty of help from her teammates. Veteran Lindsay Whalen continues to make an impact at age 34, and Sylvia Fowles is an imposing presence in the paint. Fowles earned the Defensive Player of the Year Award for the third time in her career this season, and she is also a capable scorer down low. She averaged 13.9 points per game in the regular season and shot 62.2 percent through the playoffs last season.
For the Sparks, they enter the Finals with the 2016 WNBA MVP on their roster. Nneka Ogwumike led the team with averages of 19.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in the regular season, and she has continued her dominance in the playoffs with 21.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest. She shot a ridiculous 66.5 percent from the field in the regular season, the highest in the league, and she is at 60 percent in four postseason games. Alongside Ogwumike, Los Angeles also has Candace Parker and Kristi Toliver that regularly make big contributions. In fact, Parker has been even more prolific in the playoffs than Ogwumike, averaging 22.0 points and 10.3 rebounds.
As both of these teams have the ability to put a lot of points on the board, the key will be how they defend each other. Naturally, both squads are also top notch on that end of the floor. The Lynx finished first in the WNBA in defensive rating, while the Sparks were just behind them in second. Los Angeles was especially stingy in its playoff series against the Chicago Sky, and that will have to continue against the prolific Lynx offense to have a chance to beat the defending champions.
Game 1 of the WNBA Finals tips off at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday.