MINNEAPOLIS -- Heading into their regular-season finale in Los Angeles over the weekend, the Lynx had designs on winning their sixth-straight game and earning a first-round home game in the WNBA playoffs.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the Lynx will open their postseason with a win-or-go-home date in Seattle against the sixth-seeded Storm on Wednesday, Sept. 11.
The performance in a 77-68 loss to the Sparks left Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve confused. Her team, which had been playing so well, looked focused and energized entering the contest. Once the ball was tipped — nothing.
“That’s the part that I’m really struggling for answers with,” Reeve said, “is how can we not be highly engaged at key positions to get try to get a home game for the playoffs?”
That question is moot. The question now is can the Lynx find that energy and focus prior to win a game that will otherwise mark the end of their season?
“If we are not highly engaged and willing to do anything to win a possession, it’ll be a short playoff run,” Reeve said.
But if the Lynx play the way they did in recent victories over Las Vegas, Phoenix and Chicago, the season could be far from over. During their recent five-game winning streak, Minnesota had the league’s best defense and second-best offense, outscoring opponents by 16.9 points per 100 possessions — a number that trailed only top-seeded Washington (17.2) during that time.
“There’s a level of play there that if we reach, there aren’t many teams that can beat us,” Reeve said. “But I think every team in the league can probably say that.”
But the fact Minnesota has reached that level so recently is a reason for optimism.
“We knew what we were capable of doing,” Lynx center Sylvia Fowles said, “so it was just a matter of making sure everybody is on the same page and we’re going out there and getting it done as a team.”
Wednesday matchup doesn’t seem to be ideal for Minnesota. The Lynx went 1-3 against the defending WNBA champs this season. Reeve noted former Lynx forward Natasha Howard, now one of the league’s best players, “opened up a can of” you know what on Minnesota when she scored 33 points in a Seattle win at Target Center in mid-July.
Seattle (18-16) has also hurt the Lynx with its 3-point shooting.
“It’s got to be a collective effort on this team,” Reeve said. “We’re going to have a great understanding of what needs to happen by (Wednesday) night.”
Lynx star rookie Napheesa Collier noted a lot of people didn’t expect Minnesota (18-16) to be in this year’s playoffs as the team rebuilt on the fly. In that sense, the Lynx are playing with house money this postseason — something it hasn’t done in a long, long time.
“This is huge for us,” Collier said, “and we’re going to play hard to the end, but not to take it for granted.”
Minnesota played its final two regular-season games away from home and didn’t have time to come back to the Twin Cities prior to its playoff opener. With the possibility of playing their next four games away from home, it’s possible the Lynx won’t return to Minneapolis for some time.
That’s their plan, anyway. Wednesday’s winner plays the Sparks in L.A.
“I think this is fun,” Reeve said. “I think this, as part of the journey, could make for a great story, a team like ours being on the road, picking up a couple road games, getting into the semifinals and trying to get a home game for our fans by getting into the semis.”
That would be a shock to many. But then again, this team has been full of surprises.
“We’ve spent a lot of time getting to know each other over the course of this season, winning games along the way, maybe doing things that people didn’t expect us to do,” Reeve said. “We’ve had some resiliency about us. When we’ve had difficult times, we understand why, how to fix it. So I need the team that we currently have, who doesn’t have any playoff experience together, to simply draw on our regular season.”