WNBA favorites Mercury, Lynx meet in season opener
The Minnesota Lynx are well aware of the difficulty in repeating as WNBA champions.
The Phoenix Mercury expect to make it that much harder.
As the Lynx begin their quest for a fourth title in six years, the Mercury enter Target Center on Saturday night with equally high expectations after getting Diana Taurasi back in the fold.
Despite indisputably establishing itself as the league's preeminent power of this decade, back-to-back championships remain an elusive feat for Minnesota. The Lynx were upset by Indiana in the 2012 WNBA Finals and fell to a powerhouse Mercury squad in the 2014 Western Conference finals before avenging both defeats during last year's run.
With a chance to become the third franchise to repeat and first since Los Angeles in 2002, the Lynx don't figure to rest on their lofty accomplishments.
"I'm not going to shy away from the idea that this group deserves to have on their resume, their legacy, that we were repeat champions," coach Cheryl Reeve said. "They deserve to have that. So I'm not going to shy away from that publicly and I'm not going to shy away from that internally. It's something that we're going to go after with everything we have."
With the decorated core of Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson still intact, 2015 finals MVP Sylvia Fowles available for a full season and veteran guard Jia Perkins added via trade, the Lynx appear well-equipped for another title chase.
Phoenix looms as Minnesota's biggest threat, especially with Taurasi back after playing exclusively in Europe in 2015. The 2009 league MVP and seven-time All-Star turns 34 next month but clearly isn't in decline, as she showed by leading the Euroleague in scoring for champion UMMC Ekaterinburg.
"She's the best player in the world, but I haven't seen her play as well as she did (in Europe) this past offseason," coach Sandy Brondello said.
With sharp-shooter Penny Taylor also returning from a one-year hiatus and All-Stars Brittney Griner, DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree still on the roster, the Mercury have their entire starting five from the 2014 team that dispatched the Lynx in three games en route to the title.
Minnesota turned the tables by sweeping the Mercury in last year's conference finals prior to outlasting Indiana in five games to win the championship.
"There's never been a game that I've wanted to win so bad," said Griner of the opener. "I can't wait to go."
Including the playoffs, the Mercury have lost five straight at Minnesota since an 80-72 win in June 2014 behind Taurasi's 21 points and 11 assists. Phoenix took three of five meetings during the 2015 regular season.