The Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty are both banged up and struggling as the postseason begins, but both playoff-tested franchises are eager to make a run at their first WNBA titles.
Second-seeded Connecticut visits No. 3 seed New York on Thursday night in the opener of a best-of-three first-round series in the Eastern Conference.
The Sun went 21-13 in the regular season, but lost three of their last four games. New York finished 19-15 and also dropped three of its last four contests.
Connecticut didn't have starting point guard Lindsay Whalen available for the last two games of the season due to an injured ankle. Whalen led the WNBA with 5.4 assists per game and also averaged a career-best 14.0 points this season, second on the Sun behind Asjha Jones (17.0).
"The ankle's feeling pretty good. I'm receiving tons of treatment, lots of ice and all kinds of different things," Whalen told the WNBA's official Web site. "The plan is just to get as healthy as possible for Thursday and just roll with it."
Whalen averaged 16.7 points and 6.0 assists as Connecticut took two of three meetings with New York this season, including a 77-63 win at Madison Square Garden on May 18.
"The matchup with New York is going to be a tough one. We all know it's going to be a hard-fought series," Whalen said. "The Liberty present a lot of problems with the different sets that they run. We need to come out and be focused from the start. It's tough going in there at their place for the first game. The crowd's definitely going to be excited."
New York is dealing with its own injuries as it prepares for its ninth trip to the playoffs in its 12th year of existence.
Leading scorer Shameka Christon missed three games down the stretch with a strained right hamstring, while second-leading scorer Janel McCarville returned in the regular-season finale after missing three with back spasms. Top reserve Tiffany Jackson has not played since the Olympic break due to a stress fracture.
"I'm disappointed we've struggled so much offensively," New York coach Pat Coyle said, "but when you really look at it, because of injuries we've been playing a lot of different people. We haven't been able to get into a steady flow."
Connecticut has been in the playoffs every year since relocating from Orlando prior to the 2003 season. The Sun have reached the WNBA finals twice in the past four seasons, sweeping New York in the conference finals in 2004 in the only playoff series between these teams.
"(Connecticut) is a great team," Coyle told the Liberty's official Web site. "They were the number one team in the league for quite some time, and towards the end they just looked out of it. But they are great competitors and a well coached team. They are a solid team that doesn't make many mistakes. ... Obviously we have to limit Lindsay Whalen and Asjha a lot."
The Liberty have played for the WNBA title four times, but haven't advanced past the first round since falling to the Sun in 2004.
The series shifts to Connecticut for Game 2 on Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, on Monday.