- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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Minnesota Lynx (18-16), West No. 3
What's working: Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson (above) -- who combine for 47 percent of Seattle's scoring -- continue to impress us. As tremendous as those two Olympians are, Seattle cannot survive the postseason without Bird and Jackson getting help from their teammates. When Kamila Vodichkova (8.0 ppg) and Sheri Sam (9.1 ppg) contribute, the Storm are unbelievable and very hard to beat.
The Storm might not be great 1 vs. 1 defenders, but Seattle plays really good team defense. The Storm know where to rotate and how to force you into their help defense to better contest your shots. Seattle just makes you go where it wants you to be, and that's a credit to Anne Donovan and her old-school, smart defense.
Betty Lennox, third on the team in scoring with an 11.2 average, has had a solid season and is one of the leading candidates for the league's Most Improved honors.
What's working: Anybody who thought the Lynx might fall off after losing Katie Smith for the season -- and there were a lot of us -- should be pleasantly surprised to see Minnesota in the playoffs for the second straight year. Losing Smith and all she did for the Lynx -- she's the team's best perimeter defender, its locker room leader, one of the most intelligent players in the game, not to mention one of the league's top scorers at 18.8 points per outing -- was traumatic, but her teammates rallied. Each player has stepped up, and with Teresa Edwards and Helen Darling leading the way, just giving a little more to help make up.
Rookie Nicole Ohlde (above) has just been sensational. We knew she was good, but the former Kansas State standout's footwork is better than her peers who have been in the league four or five years. Ohlde (11.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) also has a lot more skill down low with her back to the basket than a lot of people knew.
What needs work: Seattle's defense hasn't seemed as strong since the Olympic break. In their first five games after the league resumed, the Storm went 1-4 and were giving up four more points per game than they had allowed heading into August.
Also, though Seattle ranks fourth in the league in rebounding at 31.1 a game, the Storm don't always board consistently.
And while it's obvious Bird (12.9 ppg) and Jackson (20.5 ppg) must continue to produce, another key is consistent defense from Sam. If she doesn't come up on the defensive end, don't be surprised to see Alicia Thompson getting more minutes.
What needs work: We can't overlook the obvious. In addition to rallying without Smith, the Lynx also benefited from untimely losses by their Western Conference counterparts. In the last week of the season, both Sacramento and Phoenix suffered three-game skids, which made Minnesota's own two-game losing streak less deadly.
Still, Minnesota doesn't have many flaws. Yes, the Lynx are a fairly young team, but they are good rebounders and get after it defensively, ranking among the league leaders in scoring defense. The key is that everyone must continue to contribute consistently.
X-factor: Though the Storm are very deep at the post, Vodichkova and Jackson must avoid foul trouble. Vodichkova's contributions continue to be key, but she has to be consistent. Defensively, she has the capability to hold her own against the likes of Lisa Leslie, and Vodichkova's outside shooting can be a real plus for the Storm, too.
X-factor: Points can be tough to come by for the Lynx, who rank 12th of 13 teams in scoring. Keeping the score close is a must. Minnesota has a chance to win if it can keep it a half-court and possession game. If, however, the Lynx allow the opponent to run and stretch the tempo of the game, Minnesota will be in trouble.
How they match up: The matchup to watch in this series is Vodichkova vs. Minnesota rookie Vanessa Hayden, the seventh overall pick in April's draft, despite a broken ankle. A lot of teams were willing to wait for Hayden to return from the injury, and the patience has paid off for the Lynx. Hayden, who averages about five points, three rebounds and a block in less than 12 minutes, is big, strong, can shoot, likes to defend and mixes it up. That might make it hard for Vodichkova to avoid foul trouble. For a couple of rookies, Hayden and Ohlde are a pretty unbelievable tandem, even reminiscent of the NBA twin towers in Houston, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.
And keep an eye on Seattle's Lennox. She's the only Storm player who can create her own shot off the dribble. If she's on, that's a huge plus for Seattle -- and a mismatch for Minnesota. Remember, Katie Smith was the top Lynx defender.
Seattle won the season series 2-1, including a three-point victory at home and a 15-point rout at Minnesota. In their last meeting on Sept. 10, Minnesota won at home, 64-61. Jackson scored 31 points -- one of her three 30-plus scoring performances this season -- in their first meeting on May 20.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
16dBonnie D. Ford