Professional Basketball

Four Game Win Streak Puts Lynx Back in Contention

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The Minnesota Lynx downed the Seattle Storm 91-79 on Tuesday night at Target Center and now hold the league’s current active winning streak at five games and have won six out of their last seven games. Minnesota started the season with a 3-6 record and played six of their first nine games on the road with limited practice time between games. The early season struggles led many fans to question whether the window of opportunity for the defending league champions had closed.

However, the Lynx cut a schedule break with six days off between games which enabled them to re-focus their efforts and get some quality practice time.

“I think that was critical,” said head coach Cheryl Reeve. “We worked hard. The veterans were outstanding. The young players rose up and they physically gave of themselves, and we challenged each other. You like to see that and hopefully they’ll get the reward of winning the game.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore throws up an off balanced shot against the New York Liberty during the June 16 game at Target Center. Moore was named Player of the Week for her 18th time. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sports Page Magazine

During their next game, a June 16 contest at home versus the New York Liberty, Minnesota took a quick 4-0 lead in the first minute in the contest but surrendered it when Liberty center Kia Vaughn hit a 17-foot jumper with 6:55 left in the first quarter making the score 7-6 in favor of New York.

Sixteen seconds later, Lynx guard Tanisha Wright scored on a driving layup to regain the lead. Since Wright’s layup with 6:39 left in the first quarter of that game, Minnesota led for the next 157 minutes and 26 seconds of playing time.

When Lynx forward Maya Moore hit a 20-foot pull-up jumper with 7:00 remaining in Tuesday’s game, after briefly surrendering a two-point lead, they never trailed during the remaining 33 minutes of the contest.

“We just didn’t get off to a good start. Every journey is different. We’re mindful of not comparing ourselves to years past but we probably can’t escape that because people are used to years of May and June being months where the Lynx are ready to go. But, for a variety of reasons, we were not,” said Reeve, who won the 200th game of her head coaching career against the Dallas Wings on June 19. She is the seventh coach to reach that threshold and is now two wins behind the 205 mark set by the late Anne Donovan.

“We recognized it and we talked about it. I think we corrected a number of those things. Now we’ve won five of six games and four in a row. We had a week off that really helped us. We had a week off then a few home games and then were able to get two on the road against Phoenix and Las Vegas. Hopefully we can hang on to it going forward,” she added.

The Lynx players also recognize the difference after the week off.

“I think we’re doing great right now. We’re doing great as far as playing how we want to play on both sides of the ball. We just can’t shoot; we have to be able to make it hard for teams to play against us. I think we’ve seen that in the last few games, as far as us doing what we do well together,” said forward Maya Moore, who was named last week’s Western Conference Player of the Week for the WNBA for the 18th time in her career.

“We’re still growing and building. I think everybody has taken the first third of the season in and off to the races. Some teams have been better than what people expected them to be and some not as some people expect,” said Moore. “I think as far as our expectations, we are on the right path.”

Moore led the Western Conference with 34.3 minutes per game during the stretch from June 18-24, ranked second in the conference in scoring with 22.3 points-per-game, tied for sixth in assists with 4.3 assists-per-game and ranked 11th in rebounding by pulling down 5.3 rebounds-per game. In the three games during the week, she tallied more than 20 points in all three, making her career total of 110 games with more than 20 points, surpassing guard Seimone Augustus for the most in Lynx franchise history.

The one consistent player that Minnesota has had this season through both stretches is center Sylvia Fowles. She current ranks 12th in points per game with 17.6 and leads the league with 11.9 rebounds per game. In the May 23 outing against the Dallas Wings, she tallied 23 points, 20 rebounds and five assists, becoming the first player in league history to exceed 20 points, 20 rebounds and five steals. She nearly repeated the performance on June 19, also against Dallas, with a 19 point, 17 rebound and 5 steal performance. She scored 28 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and added 3 steals to her totals during Tuesday’s game.

“You’re putting a player and a half on Sylvia and still have to have somebody to help,” said Wings head coach Fred Williams. “Sylvia’s been the MVP of this league, carrying that crown, and showing big numbers right now.”

Even Fowles knows that it takes a team effort to get back to a championship level of play.

“Just trying to get everybody incorporated and on the same page,” she said. “Our starting five was still the same and everybody else is pretty much new or didn’t get as much playing time over the last year. If you just believe in your system and stick to what you believe in, everything will fall together.”

Even with Minnesota’s slow start, opponents knew they would get back on track and make a run up the standings at some point in the season.

“Every year is different. Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily start the way you want it to, and that’s just something Minnesota hadn’t experienced in years, and they did,” said Seattle guard Sue

Bird. “It probably shook them a little bit and they just had to settle. You can tell now that the dust has settled and they’re playing the way they want to.”

Bird has experienced slow starts at times during her previous 16 seasons leading the Storm at the guard position. “Each season is unique and for them, this is just the way the season started. As you can see, they bounced back. I’m not surprised by that with the talent and experience they have – they know what’s up. It just took them a second to move on from the losses and now they’re playing really well,” she added.

In other words, the Lynx (8-6) are currently in sixth place in the league standings. Their next challenge is tonight at Target Center against the eighth place Atlanta Dream (7-7). For their remaining 20 games of the regular season, 12 are slated against teams that are behind them in the standings, and 11 will be played at home.

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