WNBA playoff X factors, predictions

X factor: Jia Perkins. There will be a lot of emotion for San Antonio, which is playing to extend Becky Hammon's career. But it's another guard, Perkins, whose offense might be critical for the Stars to have a chance to upset the Lynx. Perkins, who missed 11 games to injury this season, appears back strong. She had 23 points against the Lynx in the Stars' Aug. 15 victory.

Regular-season series: The Lynx went 4-1.

Voepel's prediction: Lynx in two games. Yes, the Stars really want to at least go the distance in this series for Hammon, who will retire from playing when this season ends. But Minnesota will not be feeling sentimental; the Lynx want to repeat their championship and win their third title overall.

Smith's prediction: Lynx in three games. If Friday night's Stars win was any indication, this could be a great series. But Minnesota knows how to do this, and with home-court advantage will come out the winner.

No. 1 Atlanta (19-15) vs. No. 4 Chicago (15-19)

Nothing has come easily this season for Chicago, which has been seriously challenged by injuries and illness. When healthy, the Sky are much like last year's squad that finished with the best record in the East. But they had to hobble through most of June and July without Elena Delle Donne, who battled a recurrence of Lyme disease. Since she came back July 31, the Sky have been able to get five crucial wins to gain their playoff spot. The return of guard Courtney Vandersloot this month helped, too.

Meanwhile, Atlanta hasn't been as consistent a team as the Dream hoped they would be, despite another MVP-caliber season from Angel McCoughtry (18.5 PPG). But they had their challenges, too, including new coach Michael Cooper's brief time away from the team to be treated for tongue cancer. The Dream were the only Eastern Conference team to finish with a winning record, but they've had two stretches this season where they've lost at least four consecutive games.

Key matchup: The benches. How big an impact will All-Star Game MVP Shoni Schimmel make as a reserve for Atlanta? She definitely has had her moments, including a recent 24-point performance against Phoenix on Aug. 13. Meanwhile, Allie Quigley has led the way off the bench for Chicago, and she has been a dependable scorer when the Sky has really needed that.

X factor: Sylvia Fowles. Big Syl missed 14 games and didn't start her season until June 25. With Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza on the other side, the Sky need Fowles to be closer to her old self in this series.

Regular-season series: The Sky had the edge, 3-2.

Voepel's prediction: Sky in three games. Yes, that would be an upset. But the Dream's 2-6 record in August is cause for concern that Atlanta just isn't in sync going into the postseason. Then again, we've said that before with the Dream, even in years they made the WNBA Finals.

Smith's prediction: Sky in three games. With Delle Donne back, the Sky are starting to look like the team that started the season so strong. And the Dream look like a team on the wane, even with home-court advantage. Upset happens here.

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