Just like the players, coaches and fans, Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman is pumped for the 2004 WNBA Finals. After holding down the fort in the studio during the pre-game, halftime and postgame shows for ESPN throughout the playoffs, Lieberman will finally get to see some live action at the Mohegan Sun and Key Arenas. After outlining the keys to the first round and Conference Finals, here is how she sees the Finals playing out.

Like any series, the 2004 WNBA Finals will be won and lost in the matchups and each team's ability to make adjustments in response to the other.

In Defense of the Sun
Just like the Western Conference Finals, you can expect to see both the Storm and the Sun push the ball and run this series. The Sun's objective is to rebound, to run and put Seattle on their heels defensively. Connecticut scores through its transition game and the half court, so in order for Seattle to be successful, they have to take away one of those weapons. Seattle may not the best one-on-one defensive team, but they play tremendous team defense within the half-court set. Anne Donovan knows that her team must get on the offensive glass and get back in transition defense. She is a tremendous X-and-O's coach, but she also has players that can execute. They are savvy, smart, and while they may not be as athletic as the Monarchs, don't be fooled. They are very athletic and have tremendous basketball acumen.

Lauren Jackson
In Defense of the Storm...
In order for Connecticut to stop Seattle, Coach Thibault is going to have to constantly change up his defensive schemes. Sacramento never adjested to Seattle's strengths, became predictable and lost as a result. The Storm were able to move the ball side-to-side thanks to their great passers. They also outrebounded the Monarchs, 28-21, and only gave up two offensive rebounds in the first half, thus limiting Sacramento's ability to get out and run or get second-chance shots.

Connecticut can potentially match up with Seattle at every position, but they cannot match up with Lauren Jackson. They do not have the personnel to stop her and will have to defend her by committee. Taj McWilliams-Franklin is playing the best basketball of her career, but has a daunting challenge ahead of her. I'm sure Thibault will throw a lot of different looks at her. He is a fabulous X-and-O's coach as well and he will try and keep the ball out of her hands, perhaps by trapping her more. He will never play her the same way twice and give her comfortability. They'll play behind her, in front of her, they'll put pressure on the passer, they'll run people at her and they will rotate behind her.

The Sun will also try and make Jackson think, but that is the part of her game that has evolved the most. She has physically and mentally gone to another level. She is no longer a young kid that we can talk about being great one day. She is great, and I think she is the best.

In Good Hands
Jackson has some of the best hands I have ever seen. You can throw anything at her. I feel safe to say that if I had to rank people's ability to catch a ball, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss is number one, Eagles receiver Terrell Owens is number two and Lauren Jackson is third on that list. She continues to prove that she can catch the ball in traffic, she catches bounce passes, she can catch balls thrown away from her, she can go up and get them. She has also worked so hard on her footwork and her first step is so good as a result. She is just so accomplished.

Nothing against Lisa Leslie or Yolanda Griffith (and I say this both in truth and in jest), but the best posts in the west are Lauren Jackson and Anne Donovan. Lauren is versatile and Annie is a Hall of Famer. That's a pretty cool combination, because Lisa and Yolanda can't stop Anne from giving Lauren knowledge. How can you defend that?

Lindsay Whalen
On Guards: Whalen vs. Bird
I can't wait for the Lindsay Whalen-Sue Bird matchup. That is going to be so exciting to watch. Lindsay Whalen is phenomenal in the open court. When she attacks, the defense is on its heels and has to retreat. Then she gets past the defense and cuts you up like a surgeon. As for Bird, first off, let me say that I am entering her in the "Tough Guy" Competition on PayPerView. She has the name, she has the game, but now she has shown another side of what she is all about. People know the "I'm not as innocent as you think I am" side, but she proved to us that she is "a lot tougher than you think I am." She is a New York girl, and New Yorkers fear nothing. I knew she was good, but she went up about ten pegs in my pecking order of how to play this game.

In the last series, the Monarchs did not deviate from their defense or make the necessary adjustments and allowed the screen-roll with Bird and Jackson to beat them. The defender guarding Jackson is supposed to make sure that Bird or another guard doesn't turn it up and go down the middle of the lane. If that happens, a weak-side defender comes in and then there is an open shooter in the corner. But you're going to have to give up something. Would you rather give up a shot to the MVP or Betty Lennox or Sheri Sam? Pick your poison.

You can't let a team with a savvy passer and a great shooter get open looks. With time to shoot, these players are like kids in a candy shop. Jackson was the best 3-point shooter in the WNBA this year, and in Game 3 against Sacramento, she went 6-7 from beyond the arc because she was wide open.

Experience Counts for Something
As far as actual WNBA Finals experience goes, nobody in this series has ever been here before. But honestly, they have been in pressure games before. There are players in both lockerrooms that know how to tell stories. Anne Donovan can tell them what it was like playing for an NCAA Championship and a gold medal and Sue Bird knows what championship basketball is all about. For Connecticut, Thibault has won championships in the CBA and with the Lakers and players like Asjha Jones won championships in college. I just don't see a reason for anyone to be nervous or scared. This is just another game where two heavyweights will come out and try to take away each other's strengths. It will come down to executing and who gets it done.

There Can Be Only One
And as for the last question... predictions... I don't know. The cream will rise to the top and I am as anxious as anybody to see how this thing shakes out. I think it will go three games and this could be where the home court advantage bears fruit as it did in the last game for Seattle.

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