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WNBA Finals Practice Report (Sept. 28): Series Shifts to L.A.

LOS ANGELES – After traveling from Minneapolis to Los Angeles on Wednesday, the Lynx and Sparks were back on the court Thursday afternoon at the Galen Center on USC’s campus. Ahead of Friday’s Game 3 of the Finals (9 PM ET, ESPN2), both teams spoke to the media as they prepared to try and take a 2-1 lead.

Here are the top storylines that emerged from media availability on Thursday.

Making Minor Adjustments

Friday’s Game 3 of the Finals will be the 14th meeting between the Sparks and Lynx in the past two seasons. Needless to say these teams know each other pretty well.

“It’s still the same tendencies. We know spots on the floor where they try to get people. It’s no secret with our offense what we run and it’s no secret of what they try to do,” said Sparks forward Candace Parker. “Regardless of the motion before it, it’s still getting people to certain spots. No matter the tweaks, I think it comes down to rebounding, defense, and urgency. Obviously, you have got to knock down a couple shots.”

The Sparks and Lynx took to the practice court on Thursday to implement a few new wrinkles heading into Friday’s pivotal game with the series tied 1-1.

“We just tried to tweak some of our offenses today,” said Sparks coach Brian Agler. “We went through some of their [Lynx] defenses and did a film session before practice. We just talked and got ready for Game 3.”

In a series as tightly contested as this one – only 12 points separate the two teams over their past 13 games combined, with the Sparks holding a 1001-989 edge in the composite score – just one play that the other team isn’t ready for could make all the difference.

“If you give a coach like Cheryl Reeve and Brian Agler a few extra days like we have between Game 3, you never know,” said Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus. “They might have a few tweaks here and there. Maybe a few new plays. That’s the nature of the WNBA — two brilliant-minded coaches as far as the game planning and adjustments that will be made in a short period of time.”

Importance of First Quarter

After both teams faced massive deficits in a first quarter – Minnesota trailed 28-2 in Game 1, while L.A. trailed 28-10 in Game 2 – getting off to a hot start will be one of the key focuses.

“I suspect it will be on both teams’ minds,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It will be a test of wills, for sure in the beginning of the games because both teams will try to establish themselves early. All I know is I’m sure it was on our minds Game 1, but we weren’t able to get it done. I know it was on L.A.’s mind for Game 2, but they weren’t able to get it done. It’s why they play the game.”

The opening frame has proven to be especially important when the Sparks and Lynx meet. Save for Game 5 of last year’s Finals – when Minnesota led 18-17 after the first quarter and L.A. won on a last-second shot – every regular season and Finals meeting between them has been won by the team that won the opening quarter.

“I think coming into every game, we have to have a certain mindset and we have to come out with a sense of urgency,” Sparks guard Alana Beard said. “Obviously we came out with a sense of urgency and a great mindset in the first game and didn’t have it in the second game, but those are two important factors to winning games in a series like this.”

Change of Scenery

After splitting the first two games in Minneapolis, the Finals has shifted to Los Angeles with Games 3 and 4 to be played at the Staples Center.

“We are playing at Staples and we haven’t lost much at Staples, so I think that contributes to the crowd we’re going to see,” said Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike. “Our fans are going to be proud to see us play at Staples and I think that pride is also going to contribute to how hard we play out there. Obviously we have to play hard for each other in order for us to do something big on Staples’ court.”

The Sparks are back in their home arena and playing in front of their home fans, but they must continue to play with the same mindset they did while on the road in Minnesota.

“It’s never a comfort,” said Beard. “We’re in The Finals. We approach every game like it’s our last. It’s good to be back home in front of our fans. It feels good. They give us a second wind, but this is the Finals. I don’t really consider anything home-court advantage.”

During the regular season, the Lynx and Sparks met in Los Angeles only once – a 78-67 win for the home team on Aug. 27. The last time the Lynx won in Staples Center was Game 4 of last year’s Finals when their season was on the line.

“I think Candace [Parker] said it best… it probably doesn’t matter where these two teams play, you’re talking about awfully talented players,” said Reeve. “That being said, we haven’t won here this year. L.A. has done a great job taking care of their home court this entire season, including the playoffs, so we have our work cut out for us.”

Los Angeles finished the regular season with a league-leading 16-1 mark at home and has won its first two home playoff games as well. L.A.’s last loss at the Staples Center came on July 30 as they fell to the Chicago Sky by just two points.

“We’ve had a lot of road games over the years and it’s fun,” said Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen. “This is going to be a great environment because we know there are a lot of great basketball fans out here in L.A. I’m looking forward to it and the opportunity to play again. That what you play, to be in front of big crowds. There were a couple of great crowds in Minnesota and I know L.A. will have great crowds this weekend.”