Professional Basketball

Defending Champion Lynx Hampered By Slow Start

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If there has been one consistent refrain that the Minnesota Lynx players and coaches have repeated during their championship run since 2011 is that consistently winning “is never easy.” Despite winning four championships on six trips to the WNBA Finals in seven years, the Lynx have always found ways to win against all odds. Not so for the beginning of the 2018 campaign. With six games complete, the defending WNBA champions find themselves with a 2-4 record and their worst start to a season since 2010’s 1-5 start, which was head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve’s first season with the team.

Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles blocks a shot by Dallas Wings forward Kayla Thornton during the May 23 game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III – Sports Page Magazine

In 2010, the Lynx recovered after a 2-9 start to finish at 13-21 and on the bubble from a playoff appearance. It was the last time the team failed to make the playoffs and they were still putting the pieces together which resulted in their championship run.

So far this season, the team lost their home opener against the Los Angeles Sparks by a single point in a buzzer beater, lost a road game to the Atlanta Dream by two points after Angel McCoughtry hit a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds left, and dropped contests to the Washington Mystics and Phoenix Mercury by double-digits.

“A lot of these that games that were losses for us, there was progress in those games in terms of what we’re trying to get to,” said Reeve. “It is not a ‘moral victory’ situation but it is important that we are finding our way and spending more time with good moments than not good moments. That will be absolutely necessary when we play LA on Sunday.”

In the first six games this season, the Lynx have played five teams that reached the playoffs last year, the Atlanta Dream being the sole exception. With McCoughtry’s return and a head coaching change, the Dream has found themselves to be a tougher opponent this season than last.

“Well, I mean we were 2-9 in 2010, so not the kind of waters we’re used to for the last seven years, but like what Coach said, every journey is different,” said guard Lindsay Whalen. “Obviously it’s not what we want but at the end of the day it’s about getting wins as a team and figuring that out. We have a great coach, great players on the court, on the team. I think that it’s just going to take everybody just doing a little more of what they do on the court and bring whatever you can bring just a little more.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore and Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi collide during the first quarter of the June 1 game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III – Sports Page Magazine

A Minnesota slow start has brought cheers from fans from around the league while Lynx fans are beginning to wonder if the championship window is closing.

However, the Lynx have led in every single game they’ve played thus far but have had problems protecting their leads in the fourth quarter. They blew an 18-point lead at Washington on May 27.

“It’s something that we have to look at,” said Reeve. “Substitution-wise, where are we at with minutes? We have players trying to make plays that are tired. Two of our key players (Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus) statistically percentage-wise have not been very good. It’s on our minds in terms of getting them out [earlier] so they have the legs to perform. It’s something that we’re looking at.”

Despite the poor start in the win/loss column, there have been some impressive individual performances so far this season.

One of which occurred on May 23 when center Sylvia Fowles notched 23 points, 20 rebounds and 5 steals, becoming the first player in WNBA history to record more than 20 points, 20 rebounds and 5 steals in a single game. She finished four rebounds shy of tying the single-game record set by Washington’s Chamique Holdsclaw on May 23, 2003. Fowles has also recorded five double-doubles in the past six games.

Minnesota now faces a tough three-game road trip starting with the Sparks (3-1), Mystics (5-2) and Connecticut Sun (4-0). They know that the time to right the ship is now.

Minnesota Lynx centers Sylvia Fowles and Lynetta Kizer attempt to block a shot by Dallas Wings forward Karima Christmas-Kelly during the May 23 game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III – Sports Page Magazine

“We have three on the road now, so that’s even more important at this point because we know it’s a really big stretch and I know that will be a big focus for us going out into L.A. is doing those things just a little bit better with a little more determination and doing it together,” said Whalen.

Forward Maya Moore knows that it is not time to push the panic button just yet, but acknowledges that the team has to play better.

“Nothing just happens. Just because you’ve done something in the past, gives you zero guarantee that it’s going to happen again. That’s life. That’s what we’re experiencing and that’s what a new season is all about,” said Moore.

“We have this group right now, in this league, in this moment and all those little things that we made look so easy over the years are really hard. We’re going to have to continue to fight and work and figure out what it looks like for this group right now to get it consistent, which will convert to wins,” she added.

Reeve knows that while her team has a championship-caliber work ethic, the level of competition in the league has increased.

“I don’t think we need motivation. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” she said. “We’re in the WNBA. Every team is good and if you don’t perform you don’t win.”

There is still time to right the ship of the 2018 season for the Minnesota Lynx but it has to start soon. Their next challenge starts at 4 p.m. CT today when they play the Sparks (3-1) at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

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