Los Angeles and Minnesota, the teams that met in last year's WNBA Finals, make their 2017 playoff debuts on Tuesday as the semifinals tip off. Top-seeded Minnesota hosts Washington (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET), followed by Phoenix at Los Angeles (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET).
Both the Lynx and Sparks went 3-0 in their regular-season series against their respective semifinal opponents, winning by an average margin of victory of at least 15 points. But sweeping their way to a Finals rematch will be a much more difficult task: ESPN's WNBA Basketball Power Index (BPI) gives just a 6 percent chance of both teams advancing after just three games in the best-of-five series.
Despite the age-old question of rest-versus-rust, the BPI heavily favors both double-bye teams in their series openers, giving each better than a 75 percent chance to win Game 1 at home on eight days' rest.
Last season, neither team showed any sign of rust, as both notched Game 1 victories by double-digit margins. Minnesota went on to sweep the Mercury; the Lynx have a 24 percent chance to do the same against Washington this postseason.
Washington looks to squash the possibility of a Minnesota sweep with its high-powered offense, which is tied with its opponent as the top attacking units in the league, per the BPI. In two of their three meetings this season, one team was missing a key starter, with Washington's Elena Delle Donne out for the June 9 matchup, and Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen absent for the Sept. 3 season finale.
With both teams expected at full strength for the semifinals, the BPI predicts that Minnesota will prevail due to its defense, which is 10 expected points better than that of the Mystics.
While Minnesota's defense is far superior to Washington's, the Lynx are far from the top-rated defense in the league. According to the BPI, the Sparks' expected defensive contribution is more than double that of Minnesota. L.A. won its final seven games of the season by allowing an average of 69 points per game, a stretch that included wins against the other three semifinal teams.
Which teams are moving on?
The BPI gives the Lynx and Sparks a 50 percent chance to meet in the WNBA Finals, which would mark the first rematch in the championship series since the Houston Comets defeated New York Liberty in 1999 and 2000.
The Sparks have the slight edge over the Lynx as the BPI's favorite to repeat, a feat no team has accomplished since the Sparks in 2001-02.
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