8:00 PM ET, October 4, 2012
Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
Despite barely surviving, the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx were content with their performance in the opening round of the playoffs.The Lynx's happiness in the Western Conference finals might hinge on whether they can add to their superb record at home and take advantage of the Los Angeles Sparks' inconsistency on the road.Minnesota will try to take another step toward repeating in Thursday night's series opener at the Target Center.After matching last year's franchise record with 27 wins in the regular season, Minnesota narrowly got past Seattle -- a team that finished 16-18 -- in three games, winning the finale 73-72 on Tuesday as Seimone Augustus scored 21 points and Maya Moore had 20."I'm not sure if people on the outside really understood how hard of a series that was for us," coach Cheryl Reeve told the team's official website. "They think it should be easy for us, and it's not. Seattle played really well and schemed really well. It was a battle. We felt very accomplished in advancing and getting to the Western Conference finals."For the top-seeded Lynx to stay on track toward becoming the first team to repeat as WNBA champs since the Sparks did it in 2001 and 2002, they'll have to get past a Los Angeles team that swept its opening series.The Sparks won by seven points in each of their two games against San Antonio, including a 101-94 victory Saturday that featured Candace Parker's 32 points."It's just a stepping stone. We're not satisfied," said Parker, who scored 25 in Game 1. "It's a great step. We beat a great team on their home floor. I'm proud of our group."The Game 2 win was the Sparks' ninth in 18 road games this season, and they'll next face one of the best home squads in the league. Minnesota has won 18 of 19 at the Target Center this year, including a pair of matchups against Los Angeles.The Lynx lost both visits to Los Angeles, including a 92-76 defeat Sept. 20. Parker and emerging rookie star Nneka Ogwumike each scored 22 points in that win."We have a tough team we have to face with a lot of firepower," Augustus said. "It starts with Candace Parker. She's the leader of that team. We're going to definitely get prepared for Thursday."Moore and Augustus each had 23 points during an 88-77 home victory over the Sparks on Sept. 4, and they'll try to replicate that performance in a matchup of the two highest-scoring teams in the WNBA. Minnesota averaged 86.0 points this season while Los Angeles scored 84.0 per game.Kristi Toliver averaged a team-best 17.5 points for the Sparks in the regular season -- 6.3 more than in any other year -- and 26.0 in the West semifinals, matching a career high with 29 points in Game 1 against San Antonio. She equaled that total during a 96-90 win over Minnesota on July 5, but scored a combined 15 in the last two matchups with the Lynx.These teams haven't squared off in the postseason since Minnesota lost in three games in the 2003 West semifinals in the franchise's first playoff series.