When a team piles up as many victories as the Lynx, it’s easy to forget the downturns. The current run of four losses in six games might seem surprising, until coach Cheryl Reeve offers a reminder of the three-game losing streak last season, or the 1-4 slump they endured along the way to the 2015 WNBA championship.
“We’ve experienced tough stretches every season,’’ Reeve said Monday. “We know what to do when you fall on tough times. And I see us with a look in our eye that makes me sleep well at night.’’
That said, her dreams would be sweeter with a victory Tuesday, when the Lynx play Phoenix at Xcel Energy Center. With six games remaining in the regular season, injured starters Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson still are unable to play, and a top-two playoff seed is not yet assured.
Reeve was happier with the effort in Sunday’s 70-61 loss at New York than she was with the previous defeats in a 2-4 stretch that dates to Aug. 6. And the two victories include the record-breaking 111-52 rout of Indiana last Friday, which showcased the Lynx at their best.
To beat Phoenix, the Lynx need to continue their strong team defense and get center Sylvia Fowles back to All-Star form after a subpar performance in New York. Reeve would like to utilize her bench more, too, but that remains secondary to job one: preserving their place atop the WNBA standings.
“I know there are times when we make it look like it’s not that hard to win in this league,’’ Reeve said. “But it’s really hard. And we have a mature group that understands every season is filled with ups and downs.
“We know what we have to do. And we will respond as we always do.’’
Reeve is counting on Fowles to bounce back after scoring only seven points Sunday. Against a physical, swarming defense, she took four shots and had a team-high five turnovers. While Fowles will be assigned to guard center Brittney Griner, the Mercury could use the more muscular Camille Little as the primary defender on Fowles, as they did in an 81-66 Lynx victory last month.
Griner leads the WNBA with 21.5 points per game. The Lynx have held her to a total of 21 in the two games she has played against them this season, including a season-low six points in a 91-83 Lynx victory on June 30.
The Lynx remain the WNBA’s top defensive team, allowing 74.3 points per game. But their offense has generated 64 or fewer points — its lowest totals of the season — in three of the past four games, losing all three. To weather the absence of Whalen and Brunson, who are essential to keeping the offense humming along, the Lynx must maintain that high defensive standard.
“Right now, our defense is giving us a chance to win games,’’ Reeve said. “Over this tough stretch, our offense has been hit and miss. Our D needs to stay exactly where it is. And we’re going to continue to put Syl in situations to have the ball down low, and we expect her to respond with great focus and determination.’’
Though the roster has shrunk to nine healthy players, Reeve isn’t likely to add anyone. Brunson could return as soon as next week, while Whalen is expected to be out until at least Sept. 1.