Commentary

Defense will determine East semifinal

Best-of-three series opens in Indiana on Friday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET)

Updated: September 24, 2012, 10:49 PM ET
By Michelle Smith | espnW

Tamika Catchings and Angel McCoughtryCal Sport Media/AP ImagesTamika Catchings and Indiana are 3-2 against Angel McCoughtry and Atlanta in 2012.

The Dream, who have been to consecutive WNBA Finals but have no title to show for it, ride a four-game win streak (and seven wins in nine games) into the playoffs. Atlanta seems to have found its groove in the final weeks of the regular season despite a serious spate of drama in August, when coach Marynell Meadors was dismissed and star Angel McCoughtry, the WNBA's leading scorer, was briefly suspended.

There's been no such excitement in Indiana, where the veteran Fever -- led by Tamika Catchings -- make their eighth consecutive trip to the playoffs. The steady Fever lost three in a row before winning consecutive games to close the regular season and match the franchise record for regular-season victories with 22.

The biggest concern for Indiana is the health of two key backcourt players -- Shavonte Zellous and Briann January -- who suffered head injuries in a Sept. 17 game and haven't played since.

The Fever have the home-court advantage in this series and have played well at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season with a 12-4 mark.

Key to the series

The play of Sancho Lyttle and Lindsey Harding: If these two players -- who have been consistent and steady through a tumultuous year -- play big, the Dream will be a serious threat to return to the Finals.

Bottom line

Indiana will win if Zellous and January are healthy and ready to run the backcourt. Their absence would be a huge blow.

Atlanta will win if it can play defense. The Dream have given up more than 80 points only twice since September began -- and they lost both games.

Who wins?

Michelle Smith: Dream in three games. Despite all the drama in Atlanta this year, the Dream seem to know how to win in the postseason.

Mechelle Voepel: Fever in three games. The rematch of last year's Eastern Conference finals should go to the Fever if they are healthy, but the series likely will be very close and decided by whether Indiana plays defensively as well as it hopes.

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com

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