By Doug Feinberg ,AP
Ever since the Minnesota Lynx lost in the WNBA finals last year, they’ve been focused on getting back there.
Now they are closing in on a second championship in three seasons, facing a team they swept two years ago to earn the franchise’s first title. Minnesota hosts the Atlanta Dream in Game 1 of the finals Sunday night.
“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 thus far in the WNBA playoffs, sweeping all four of its games. The Lynx also posted the best record in the regular season (26-8).
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. Against Phoenix in the deciding game of the Western Conference finals, she scored a career-playoff-best 27 points.
“She’s matured and developed into a young leader,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She’s become much more efficient on the offensive side.”
The Dream want to avoid losing in the finals for the third time in the past four seasons. They were swept by Seattle in 2010 and Minnesota in 2011.
If Atlanta can’t beat Minnesota, the Dream would become the second team in WNBA 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 fast start this season, 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 playoff 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,” Atlanta coach Fred Williams said. “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 wins came in the playoffs at Washington and Indiana.
The first two games of the best-of-five finals will be in Minnesota before the series shifts to Atlanta.