Sunday morning, the Twins wore smiles as they prepared for a game in a playoff race in Minneapolis. There was the usual clubhouse teasing and buffoonery on the way to the field. Young players and winning are an intoxicating blend.
Sunday afternoon, the Lynx wore blank expressions as they prepared in St. Paul for a game that would affect their playoff seeding. Whether you would describe the mood as tense or intense, there was something in the air other than the smell of popcorn.
These differences are inherent in the two sports, but there was also a difference because of the factor that defines sports feelings: expectations.
The Twins lost 103 games in 2016. They are a slightly above average team this year, yet are becoming a compelling story about youth and the fulfilled promise and the value of patience, even though they could rationally be viewed as a year behind in their development.
They would be thrilled to finish fifth in a 15-team league, would be thrilled even if a slightly above-.500 winning percentage attained that goal. Being slightly above average would be an improvement, and so it is celebrated.
The Lynx have set standards that create tension. They lost a winner-take-all Game 5 in the WNBA Finals last season, in an attempt to win a fourth championship in six years. Next week, they will start their quest to make it four titles in seven years.
They beat the Washington Mystics on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center, giving them five victories in six games, and three in a row when they needed three in a row to secure the top seed in the Western Conference.
They won 80 percent of their games this season and remain loaded with talent and experience. With an aging roster, this could be their last best chance to win one more title.
Expectations. They will not be satisfied with anything less than a championship, which makes every success along the way forgettable, and every impediment a threat.
“It shouldn’t get lost on anybody, how hard this is to do,’’ Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “But at the end of the day, where we finished in the regular season is not what matters.’’
When point guard Lindsay Whalen injured her hand in early August, the Lynx lost its GPS. The team would lose three of its next four games, proving that it is far different to plan for the eventual retirement of Whalen than to have her absence thrust upon you in the middle of a season.
Before every game in which she plays, Whalen will stand at midcourt with Reeve and review strategy ... or talk about their families. It’s a moment for a former point guard and current point guard to get their minds right.
The Lynx is not bereft of talent at guard without Whalen, but that talent lacks the winning muscle memory that Whalen has with her teammates.
So the postseason will start with games at Williams Arena, where Whalen starred and Seimone Augustus once made an appearance for LSU. There were jokes in the locker room about letting Whalen shoot more, about asking her for secret passageways around the Barn, but the real challenge will be continuing to meld the team’s variable pieces.
Sylvia Fowles became the focal point of the offense. She will probably be the league MVP, which caused former MVP Maya Moore to search for her comfort zone in a different offense. And Moore has adapted. Sunday, she scored 26 points while Fowles, getting battered inside, was held to six shots and five points.
“It takes time to figure out what you have and how to figure out how everything you have works together,’’ Moore said. “And we have a lot.’’
Sunday night, Augustus looked across the locker room at a newer teammate and said, “It’s time to get her a championship.’’
You sensed that the regular season was a necessary evil, like basic training. The wait for the real season is over. The weight of self-imposed expectations remains.