(Series beginning Thursday)
Teams: No. 2 seed Phoenix (20-14) vs. No. 3 seed Tulsa (18-16)
Schedule: 9 p.m. Thursday at Phoenix (ESPN2), 8 p.m. Saturday at Tulsa (NBATV), 9 p.m. Monday at Phoenix (NBATV), if necessary
Season series: Phoenix won 3-2
The skinny: The Mercury, which finished second in the West without either Diana Taurasi or Penny Taylor playing and with All-Star center Brittney Griner suspended for the first seven games, begins defense of its 2014 title against a Tulsa team moving to Dallas next season. Tulsa got off to hot and was in first place in the West when G Skylar Diggins was lost for the season because of a knee injury. The Shock promptly lost 10 in a row. But coach Fred Williams rallied his team, which has won eight of its past 10 games. The Mercury relies on its powerful frontcourt of Griner (15.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game), DeWanna Bonner (15.8 ppg) and Candice Dupree (14.1 ppg). Tulsa counters with the backcourt of Odyssey Sims (16.0 ppg, 3.8 apg) and Riquna Williams (15.6 ppg), though Williams is listed as questionable (calf). Tulsa is the third-best scoring team in the league (77.7) and Phoenix is fourth in points allowed (72.3). The Shock can score, but can Tulsa slow Phoenix at the other end? Tulsa C Courtney Paris will hope her strength can counter Griner’s height.
Prediction: Phoenix in two.
Teams: No. 2 seed Chicago (21-13) vs. No. 3 seed Indiana (20-14)
Schedule: 7 p.m. Thursday at Chicago (ESPN2), 6 p.m. Saturday at Indiana (NBATV), 7 p.m. Monday at Chicago (NBATV), if necessary.
Season series: Chicago won 4-0
The skinny: The Sky, looking for a return trip to the WNBA Finals, meets the Fever in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals. This will be the third consecutive season these two teams have met in the playoffs, with Indiana sweeping Chicago in the first round two years ago. The key for Indiana is whether they can contain MVP Elena Delle Donne, who finished with the scoring title (23.4 ppg) and also grabs 8.4 rebounds per game. The Sky’s attack is all about the perimeter, with Delle Donne, Cappie Pondexter (15 ppg) and Courtney Vandersloot (11.4) all able to hit from the outside. The Fever counters with perhaps the league’s most playoff-experienced team, in the postseason for the 11th consecutive year. F Tamika Catchings (13.1 ppg), finishing her second-to-last WNBA season, is always a threat. Indiana F Lynetta Kizer (knee) is questionable. Pondexter (concussion) is probable for Chicago.
Prediction: Chicago in three.