Professional Basketball

Lynx seek defensive identity as season winds down


New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu drives to the basket past Minnesota Lynx guard Kayla McBride during Saturday’s game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine.

As the 2023 WNBA regular season sprints to the close in the next ten days, teams have already been jockeying for playoff positioning. Only three teams have clinched playoff berths so far, but only four games separate positions four through nine with the top eight advancing the postseason play. It may be, as they say in horseracing, a photo finish when the season ends next weekend.

One of the teams in the mix is the current sixth seed, the Minnesota Lynx. After starting the season 0-6, they found success midseason and were able to jump back into playoff contention. A pair of late July road wins at New York and Connecticut turned quite a few heads in the league, which left people wondering if the roar was restored.

Mathematically, the Lynx appear to be in fine shape to clinch a playoff spot as they are in a three-way tie with Atlanta and Washington, all sporting 17-19 records with four games left. There is a two-game cushion over the Chicago Sky and Los Angeles Sparks, who both sit on the bubble with 15-21 records.

When the Liberty visited Minnesota last Saturday, the visiting team turned up the heat and embarrassed the home team. The Lynx were on the losing end of a 111-76 drubbing, and were down by as many as 43 points at one point.

“[New York] played the way you would think. New York played like a super team today. Their best player just smoked us,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve following Saturday’s contest. “That’s kind of what you think they would do. I think we should have competed with them but it just didn’t happen.”

Reeve noted how her team didn’t play defense stating, “We just didn’t do anything defensively. Clearly if I understood what causes us not to play well, we would have solved it. I don’t get it.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier plays a big part of the team’s success. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine.

This is Reeve’s 14th season as a WNBA head coach, all with Minnesota. In that time, only two of her teams have failed to make the playoffs. The 2010 team, her first, was in contention for a playoff spot but narrowly missed when the team played four of their last five games on the road. A 13-21 record put the Lynx out of the playoffs and into the Draft Lottery, which enabled them to get forward Maya Moore with the top overall pick the next season. It was the beginning of eleven consecutive playoff appearances.

The playoff appearance streak was broken last year, the second year when a Reeve coached team failed to make the playoffs. A 14-22 record put them in the Draft Lottery which enabled them to acquire forward Diamond Miller with the second overall pick this season.

Reeve knows that her team has needed time to build chemistry and figure things out.

“We are in a position that people didn’t think that we would be in,” she said. “We didn’t think that way. We gotta rise up. We got to be able to flush this [Saturday’s loss], and know what makes us good, and try to bring that to D.C.”

The Lynx traveled to Washington on Tuesday. The challenges were different, the score was different, but the outcome was the same as Saturday. It was another loss. This time it was 83-72.

“I thought we got to a really good place once we survived that start, which I fully expected it to be rough early,” said Reeve. “We are fortunate that we hung in and got back into it. I just think our overall attention to detail, I think the team will tell you, whether it was our execution of our play calling or being determined against a good physical defense to have counters to what we do, and overall attention to detail in [Washington’s] personnel, we were poor. We were really poor.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Diamond Miller was selected second overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine.

If there is anything that this past week says, perhaps that the team is still searching for their defensive identity while struggling with some growing pains.

“There’s always a positive if you approach it the right way. You’re learning. You’re learning about yourselves for when you’re in these situations again,” Reeve explained. “You hope the knowledge that you gained from these difficult games on the road at this point in the season [makes you better].

“We’re a team that has obviously evolved. There are new challenges for us as teams up their desperation [at playoff time]. I think there’s always an opportunity to have some things that you take away. I just want us to grow from these hard games and these tough moments,” Reeve added.

With four games left on the regular season schedule, Minnesota will face two teams still in playoff seeding contention, one team that has already been eliminated, and one team that will most likely be eliminated by the time Minnesota plays them.

Tonight they face the 17-19 Atlanta Dream at home in a 7 p.m. CT tipoff at Target Center. The Lynx then finish their home schedule on Sunday versus the Phoenix Mercury. They then travel to Chicago on Friday Sept. 8 and Indiana on Sunday Sept. 10.

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