Minnesota Lynx favored to repeat in WNBA

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Taj McWilliams-Franklin (right), an ex-Josey star, was a key member of Minnesota's 2011 WNBA championship team. The six-time league All-Star returns this season.  KYNDELL HARKNESS/THE STAR TRIBUNE
KYNDELL HARKNESS/THE STAR TRIBUNE
Taj McWilliams-Franklin (right), an ex-Josey star, was a key member of Minnesota's 2011 WNBA championship team. The six-time league All-Star returns this season.

The Minnesota Lynx rolled through the regular season a year ago, then kept on cruising through the playoffs to win the club’s first WNBA championship.

The bad news for the rest of the league is they’ve got nearly everyone back and open the new season this weekend as the favorites to win again.

“I do think Minnesota is the team to beat,” Seattle veteran Katie Smith said on a conference call. “They’re the defending champs. They didn’t lose anything, and they still look very good.”

The Lynx lost consecutive games only once while going 27-7 before going 7-1 in the playoffs. With just two new faces, they return with the same starting lineup and most of their key reserves.

Now, Minnesota will be trying to become the first team to win consecutive titles since Los Angeles in 2001-02. Houston won the league’s first four titles from 1997-2000. Detroit (2003, ’06, ’08), Seattle (2004, ’10) and Phoenix (2007, ’09) have also won multiple titles.

“This is a new season, new challenges that we’re going to have to embrace,” said Minnesota’s reigning rookie of the year, Maya Moore. “One of the advantages we have this year is nine people coming back. … So we have that experience from last year, that familiarity with each other.”

The season tips off tonight when Candace Parker and the Sparks visit Smith, Sue Bird and the Storm. There are four more games Satur­day, and Minnesota opens at home against Phoenix on Sunday.

In the Eastern Conference, Atlanta is coming off its second consecutive trip to the WNBA Finals, where it was swept in three games again. The Dream have steadily improved in the regular season every year since entering the league in 2008, going from four wins that season, to 14 the following year, 15 in 2010 and 20 last season.

Atlanta will look to draw from its experience the past two years to return to the finals once again and get the title this time.

“Everybody sort of has a mind-set that they can win a championship each year,” said Dream star Angel McCoughtry, who narrowly finished second to Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi for the scoring title. “If you didn’t, then there’s a problem. So of course every year you say ‘this is our year, this is our year.’ Every team should think that way.”

The Lynx’s biggest challenges in the West will likely come from Seattle and Los Angeles, though both will be adjusting to roster changes.

For the third consecutive Olympics, the league will take
a monthlong break in mid-July for the Summer Games with many WNBA players representing various countries in London. Play will resume on Aug. 16 for the final 51/2 weeks of the season.


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