NEW YORK (AP) A look at the four first-round series in the WNBA playoffs, which start Thursday:
No. 1 New York (23-11) vs. No. 4 Washington (18-16)
Season Series: Mystics won 3-1.
The Skinny: It's been a historic season for the Liberty. Team earned the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history as well as securing their best record ever. Led by New York natives Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince, the Liberty hope to return to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2002. That's the last time they were the top seed in the East and the last time they faced the Mystics in the playoffs. The Mystics may not have the same star power as New York, but coach Mike Thibault's team has depth and can be dangerous when they get hot from 3-point range. Washington shot 70 percent in the first half of its rout of New York last Friday and is hitting a league-best 35 percent from 3 on the season.
Prediction: Liberty in 3.
No. 2 Chicago (21-13) vs. No. 3 Indiana (20-14)
Season series: Sky won 4-0.
The Skinny: Elena Delle Donne, named the league MVP on Wednesday, earned her first scoring title in leading Chicago to the postseason for the third straight year. It will also be the third consecutive season that these teams have met in the playoffs. Indiana swept the first round matchup two years ago and Chicago won in three games last year. The Sky have kept that momentum throughout the regular season sweeping all four meetings with the Fever. The health of Cappie Pondexter could be the key to the Sky advancing past the Fever again. Indiana is making its 11th straight trip to the playoffs and Tamika Catchings will try and lead the Fever to another championship. Both teams like to get up and down the court and put points on the board. The difference in this one will be Chicago playing two games in front of its home crowd, even if the Sky have to play the opener at their old home - the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Prediction: Sky in 3.
No. 1 Minnesota (22-12) vs. No. 4 Los Angeles (14-20)
Season series: Lynx won 3-1.
The Skinny: The biggest question mark coming into this series is the health of Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus. The Lynx's two stars missed the final few weeks of the regular season because of a variety of injuries. Augustus hasn't played since Aug. 19 with a foot injury while Whalen didn't play in September because of discomfort in her Achilles' tendon and bursitis in her right heel. Even without those stars, Minnesota has a bounty of offensive talent in Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles. While the Lynx are banged up, the Sparks are finally healthy. They started out the season winless in their first seven games and were sitting at 2-12 before finally turning things around. Candace Parker returned for the second half of the season looking refreshed and relaxed. She averaged a double-double in her 16 games. Coupled with Nneka Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver, Alana Beard and Jantel Lavender, the Sparks have enough to get past the Lynx.
Prediction: Sparks in 3.
No. 2 Phoenix (20-14) vs. No. 3 Tulsa (18-16)
Season series: Mercury won 3-2.
The Skinny: The defending champion Mercury have hit their stride lately. Phoenix survived Brittney Griner's seven-game suspension to start the season to finish with the second best record in the conference. DeWanna Bonner has stepped up her play this season in the absence of Diana Taurasi, who sat out this season to rest. Phoenix has dominated the Shock at home since 2010, winning 10 of the 11 meetings. Having homecourt will be a huge advantage for the Mercury. Tulsa had a promising start to their season before Skylar Diggins was sidelined for the year with a torn ACL. The shock lost 10 straight after their star went down before recovering for a strong finish. The Shock will be making their first appearance in the postseason since moving to Oklahoma and will play at least one more game in Tulsa before the franchise heads to the Dallas-Fort Worth area next year.
Prediction: Mercury in 3.
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