The Minnesota Lynx handled Seattle in all but one of their matchups this season, but the Storm’s three-time WNBA MVP didn’t play in any of those games.
With Lauren Jackson back, the Lynx could face a stiffer challenge as they begin their quest for back-to-back league championships Friday night.
Minnesota took three of four meetings with Seattle and beat the Storm twice by a combined 37 points during their league-record 10-0 start.
That run ended with a 65-62 road loss to the Storm on June 17, but the Lynx won 86-73 at Seattle on Aug. 21.
Minnesota (27-7) tied the team record for victories it set last year and finished one shy of matching the league mark for most in a season. The Lynx went 16-1 at home.
Seattle won 28 games en route to the 2010 league title but went 16-18 this season, posting its fewest victories since a 10-22 effort in 2001 - its second year as a franchise.
The struggles were likely due in part to Jackson’s absence until Aug. 23, as she played for the Australian Olympic team and ended up appearing in only nine games. She also missed three contests with a strained hamstring.
While Seattle ended the season on a three-game win streak, Jackson rarely showed her superstar form in her return. She averaged 10.2 points - 8.7 below her career mark - as the Storm went 5-4 with her in the lineup.
“The good thing is that we know Lauren. Even if she wasn’t here, for us post players, we aren’t doing anything different,” Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin told the team’s official website. “The defense against Lauren will be the same that we played against Tina (Thompson), (Ann) Wauters, (Camille) Little, they have such a dynamic post presence. You can’t make specific changes based on one person, because then you have four other posts to deal with.”
The Lynx led the league with 86.0 points per game and had four players average in double figures, led by Seimone Augustus (16.6 ppg) and Maya Moore (16.4). Moore also averaged 6.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals.
“They’re an outstanding team,” Storm point guard Sue Bird said. “You don’t find many weaknesses in their game, and for us we just have to try and stick to our game plan and execute it as best as we can so that we can give ourselves a chance.”
Bird, Jackson and Camille Little will have to step up their games for Seattle to pull the upset. Bird averaged a team-leading 12.2 points on the season but totaled 38 in the last two games against Minnesota.
Seattle was second to last in the league with 71.2 points a game.
The Lynx and Storm are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 Western Conference semifinals. Seattle swept that matchup en route to the first of its two league titles and Jackson was the team’s top scorer in both series.
Minnesota is looking to become the first team since Los Angeles in 2001 and ’02 to repeat as champion.
Game 2 will be Sunday at Seattle.