MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Maya Moore has homecourt advantage throughout the WNBA Finals.
The Minnesota Lynx star has taken her play to another level this season, fulfilling the promise she had as one of the most celebrated college players ever when she was taken No. 1 overall three years ago.
Now Moore and the Lynx find themselves in the finals for the third straight year. Game 1 is on Sunday night against the Atlanta Dream, the team that the Lynx beat in Moore’s rookie season to capture the franchise’s first championship. The Lynx had the best record in the league this season, so the best-of-five series starts in Minneapolis.
But even when it shifts to Georgia for Game 3, Moore will feel right at home. The Dream’s Phillips Arena in downtown Atlanta is hosting Disney On Ice, so the building isn’t available.
So Game 3 will be played at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, about 25 miles north of Atlanta. Moore definitely will know her way around. Before she became a star at UConn, Moore led Collins Hill High School to three straight Georgia state high school championships, with each title game played at Gwinnett Center.
“I know Maya’s excited,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I hope she can contain herself. Maya will show us around if we’re unsure of things.”
Moore, who was runner-up to Candace Parker for league MVP, smiled when Gwinnett was mentioned.
“It will definitely be special,” she said. “I’ll be super-focused on the game. Hopefully it can be a win for the Lynx and I can enjoy that area to the full because I played well.”
Here are five things to know about the series.
FAMILIAR FOES: These two teams met in the 2011 finals, with the fresh-faced Lynx sweeping the Dream, who were playing in their second straight finals. The Lynx closed out the Dream on their home floor in Atlanta with a 73-67 victory. Lynx guard Seimone Augustus was named MVP of the series, which was the first championship series in league history to feature two teams coached by women.
MCCOUGHTRY’S FIRE: Dream star Angel McCoughtry led the team to two straight finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, but clashed with coach Marynell Meadors and was suspended last season. Meadors was replaced, and McCoughtry re-signed with the team. She led the league in scoring for the second straight season with 21.5 points a game and was second in steals, all the while displaying a little better control of her emotions along the way to get to the Dream back to the finals.
WHALEN’S TIME: At 31 years old, Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen is having one of her finest seasons as a pro. She came home early from a job overseas in Turkey when the paychecks stopped coming and reported to Lynx camp refreshed and ready to go. She averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.8 assists and was named to the All-WNBA first team. Now Whalen is playing in her fifth finals in 10 seasons, the last three coming for her hometown Lynx.
LYNX MOTIVATION: After getting their first taste of success in 2011, the Lynx were upset by the Indiana Fever in the finals last season. They added center Janel McCarville — Whalen’s teammate in college at the University of Minnesota — and returned with a renewed focus and a rather large chip on their collective shoulder. “You use anything you can as motivation for the next season,” Whalen said. “The fact that it didn’t end how wanted last year, I think it stuck with everyone.”
DREAM’S MOTIVATION: If the Dream can’t defeat the Lynx, it would be their third finals loss in four seasons. They were swept by Seattle in 2010. The New York Liberty is the only team to accomplish that dubious feat, losing three of the first four championships. “We learned from our failures,” McCoughtry said. “We know what it feels like to not win it, and we want to get over that hump this year and bring a championship to Atlanta.”
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