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WNBA Finals 2011: Atlanta To Open Series On The Road Without Erika de Souza

The Atlanta Dream's shift to a smaller lineup due to the absence of Erika de Souza seemed to unleash the full potential of the Atlanta offense. The Dream scored two emphatic victories over the Indiana Fever and find themselves in the WNBA Finals for the second consecutive season. The biggest question heading into Game 1 of the Finals is whether or not the small Dream lineup can be as successful against Minnesota as it was against Indiana?

To be successful, Atlanta has to tip the lineup mismatches in their favor and it will be interesting to see how the Lynx decides to match up. Maya Moore will likely draw the difficult match up of trying to slow down Angel McCoughtry. Seimone Agugustus will probably start out on Armintie Price as Minnesota will probably try and protect her from being worn down by chasing after McCoughtry the entire game. If Rebekkah Brunson is matched on Sancho Lyttle then that leaves Taj McWilliams-Franklin on Iziane Castro Marques which could be a difficult match up defensively for the Lynx. 

Against Indiana, the Fever were not able to punish Atlanta's small lineup in the post but Minnesota will present a much different challenge in that regard. With the smaller lineup on the floor, the Dream may not out rebound the Lynx but like against Indiana, they need only to be close to even. 

The small lineup was so effective against Indiana, Marynell Meadors was likely to tinker with it in the Finals anyway. Now with de Souza likely out for Game 1, she has the luxury of seeing what the small lineup can do in a full game setting if she desires. 

You don't finish the season with a 27-7 record without being an excellent home team and Minnesota only lost in the Target Center three times this season. Atlanta can expect a big and raucous crowd for tonight's game as well as the Lynx has developed a nice following with their splendid season. 

Atlanta does have the benefit of playing on the WNBA's biggest stage last season when they were swept by the Seattle Storm. The Dream hope to draw from that experience and hope that their opponents are left a little shocked by the pressure of the moment. 

"I believe the difference from last year to this year is the fact that we were like, ‘Oh my god, we’re here!"’ Dream star Angel McCoughtry said. "This year is not ‘Oh my god, we’re here.’ It’s ‘we’re here. Let’s go. We’re meant to be here."’

Atlanta's trip to the Finals has taken many a twist and turn along the way, however, they have met each and every challenge along the way. Both teams are among the most talented squads in the WNBA and the even match ups figure to provide fans of the WNBA with quite a show of entertaining basketball and what may turn out to be an extremely close series. 

For more on the WNBA Finals, the Atlanta Dream and the Minnesota Lynx, be sure to check out SB Nation's Women's Hoops blog Swish Appeal

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.