With Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen playing at the top of their games, the Minnesota Lynx are on the verge of rivaling some of the greatest dynasties in WNBA history.
The defending champions hope to begin a march to their third title in four years as they visit Kara Lawson and the young, new-look Washington Mystics in the season opener for both teams Friday night.
After winning the draft lottery and selecting Moore in 2011, the Lynx snapped a six-year playoff drought and won their first WNBA crown with a three-game sweep of Atlanta.
Following a four-game loss to Indiana in the 2012 finals, they went 26-8 last season and returned to the top with another sweep of the Dream to cap one of the best three-year stretches in league history.
Minnesota is looking to join the Houston Comets – who won four titles from 1997-2000 – and the Detroit Shock – who won three from 2003-08 – as the only franchises to claim three championships.
”It’s really a special time in our franchise’s history,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. ”It’s fun to be a part of whether you’re an assistant coach, a trainer.”
During the 2013 regular season, Moore became the first player in WNBA history to lead the league in 3-pointers made (72) and 3-point shooting percentage (45.3). She also averaged career highs of 18.5 points and 6.2 rebounds to finish second in the MVP voting behind Candace Parker of Los Angeles.
Moore scored 20.0 per game on the way to being named finals MVP in October.
Following an All-Star season in which she averaged 16.3 points, Augustus raised her play with 17.7 per game in the finals. Whalen, who averaged 14.9 points and 5.8 assists – third in the league – gives the club one of the WNBA’s best point guards.
"We have the core group, we all know what to expect out of each other, and we all know what to expect from the coaching staff," Augustus told the team’s official website. "Now it’s just like incorporating a few players."
The Mystics hope to build on their first playoff appearance since 2010 after going 17-17 and falling in three games to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They made some big moves in the offseason, trading All-Star Crystal Langhorne to Seattle, bringing in D.C. native Lawson in a trade with Connecticut and adding UConn rookies Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley.
With more than half of the roster made up of first-and second-year players, they’ll look for veteran leadership from Monique Currie, Ivory Latta and Lawson. Latta averaged a team-high 13.9 points last season, while Lawson scored 15.1 per game for the Sun in 2012 before playing in just nine games during an injury-plagued 2013.
”We have a young team,” Lawson said. ”But we have a lot of talent, so it’s trying to get used to each other as quickly as possible. The chemistry on the court is going to be really important because we have a short season. We don’t have 15, 20 games to figure it out.”
Although Moore (23.0 ppg), Augustus (19.5) and Whalen (14.5) played well in last season’s series, Washington accounted for a quarter of the Lynx’s losses by winning both meetings.
Latta finished with 24 points and Currie added 23 in an 85-80 home victory June 8, two months before combining to score 44 in a 79-75 win at Minnesota.
Both teams are expected to be without key role players with Washington’s Tayler Hill pregnant and Minnesota’s Rebekkah Brunson, Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters injured.