Ever since the Minnesota Lynx lost in the WNBA finals last year, they've been focused on getting back there.
Now they are three wins away from a second championship in three seasons, facing a team they swept two years ago to earn the franchise's first title.
"We're a very hungry, determined group of women," said Minnesota's Seimone Augustus. "All year we've talked about holding our goal and destiny in our hands. We have another chance at a title after not ending last season the way we wanted to."
Minnesota has looked nearly unbeatable in the playoffs. The Lynx have swept all four of their playoff games after posting the best record in the regular season (26-8). They won both of their home games easily.
One key to Minnesota's success has been the play of Maya Moore. She's coming off a career year and has raised her game in the playoffs, averaging 21.5 points, including a career playoff best 27-point effort in the series clincher against Phoenix in the Western Conference finals.
Moore was the runner-up to Candace Parker for the league's MVP, losing by just 16 points. Almost expecting that her star wouldn't win the MVP award, coach Cheryl Reeve said in early September that she'd rather see Moore raising the MVP trophy in the finals because that meant the Lynx were the champions again.
"She's matured and developed into a young leader," Reeve said. "She's become much more efficient on the offensive side. The overall growth of Maya makes life easier for Seimone, Lindsay (Whalen) and Rebekkah (Brunson)."
The Dream want to avoid losing in the finals for the third time in the past four seasons. The Dream were swept by Seattle in 2010 and Minnesota in 2011. If Atlanta can't beat Minnesota, the Dream would become the second team in league history to lose in the finals three times, joining the New York Liberty — who lost in three of the league's first four championships.
"We learned from our failures," said Angel McCoughtry, who leads the Dream with 19.5 points a game. "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."
Atlanta got off to a hot start, winning 10 of its first 11 games before cooling off with eight losses in the next nine. The Dream lost the final four games of the regular season and got blown out in Game 1 of their first-round series against Washington.
But then it all clicked with two straight wins over Washington and a sweep of defending champion Indiana.
"We had a long road streak there in July that tested us a lot going to the West Coast," Atlanta coach Fred Williams said. "All in all we were able to maintain our second place in our division and try to gain home court advantage in the East. Down the stretch we wanted to get into postseason play when it's a different season. We stepped up after that first Washington loss."
The two teams split their regular-season matchups, each defending its home court. Atlanta has struggled on the road, winning just twice away from home since June 23. Both of those came in the playoffs at Washington and Indiana.
The first two games of the finals will be in Minnesota before the series shifts to Atlanta. If having to face the best team in the league wasn't enough of a problem, the Dream won't even be able to play on their home court; Disney on Ice is booked at the Phillips Arena. The Dream will be forced to play 25 miles away at Gwinnett Arena in Duluth.
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