Defense on stars is key in East

For the third year in a row, Atlanta and Indiana will meet in the playoffs. The Dream won their Eastern Conference finals meeting in 2011, and the Fever prevailed in an East semifinal matchup last year.

These are the two franchises in the East that have a good deal of relevant postseason experience, and that showed in their first-round victories this year.

The No. 4 seed Fever crushed top-seeded Chicago, a playoff newcomer, by dominating the Sky in every aspect and winning their two semifinal meetings by a combined 35 points. Indiana, the defending WNBA champion, played its usual smothering defense, but also distributed and shot the ball quite well. In other words, the Fever looked a lot like they did in their run to the league title in 2012.

The Fever now have won three consecutive series in which they were the lower seed, going back to last year's Eastern Conference finals (over No. 1 Connecticut) and the WNBA Finals (over West No. 1 Minnesota).

Can Indiana make it four series wins it a row as the so-called underdog? Yes, but the Fever can't -- and won't -- underestimate a second-seeded Atlanta squad that came into the postseason really dragging and lost its opening playoff game at home -- yet still managed to bounce back to beat Washington in the semifinals.

The Dream's road woes in 2013 are well-documented -- they went 4-13 away from home during the regular season -- but they were able to save their season with their Game 2 win in Washington.

Team MVP Angel McCoughtry, who was one of the strong candidates for league MVP this season, has said all along that Atlanta just needed to get into the playoffs, even if the Dream weren't playing particularly well to make it that far. She felt once the postseason started, Atlanta would be able to turn it on. That wasn't the case in a dismal 71-56 loss Thursday, but the Dream's defense turned things around in Game 2. And in Game 3, Atlanta got a big double-double from center Erika de Souza (18 points, 14 rebounds).

Key to the series

Defense. You can expect that Olympians McCoughtry and Tamika Catchings will both be on top of their games, as Catchings attempts to repeat and McCoughtry goes for a chance at her first title. The key will be which team is able to lock down the other more.

Bottom line

Atlanta won the regular-season series 3-1, and both teams have dealt with injuries. Dream forward Sancho Lyttle (foot) has been out since July 9, and didn't play in the semifinals. The Fever will be without Jessica Davenport (leg) and Katie Douglas (back) for the remainder of the playoffs, as was the case virtually all this season. But both teams have adjusted, and the Fever and Dream players know their roles very well. Both have benches that can be big factors.

Who wins?

Mechelle Voepel: Fever in two games. The Fever are playing very, very well. You just get a vibe around them that reminds you of the run they went on in 2012.

Michelle Smith: Fever in three games. Catchings played an inspired first-round series and the Fever look to be getting in their groove just in time.


The Dream went 3-1 against the Fever in the regular season. Their most recent meeting, on Sept. 4, went to overtime, with Atlanta winning 89-80. McCoughtry, the WNBA scoring champion this season, averaged 23.0 ppg in the series, including performances of 29 and 30 points.