When the Lynx hopped a plane last week for a flight to Los Angeles, they were riding a three-game winning streak and were in third place in the ever-volatile WNBA.
As they walked off the Target Center court Sunday, having incurred their worst home loss of the season, having lost by 20 or more points for the second time in three games, they were seventh.
The Lynx lost 86-66 to a surging Atlanta Dream team that, having won 10 of 11 games, is 18-10 and solidly in second place in the league. The Lynx? At 15-13, they have lost three in a row to the league’s top three teams, a trio of games that gives coach Cheryl Reeve a pretty good idea of how her team stacks up.
“Yeah, not very well, right?” she said.
In a series of unfortunate events that has played out too many times this season, the Lynx started slowly. And while their defense improved as the game went on, once again late-game scoring couldn’t be found. The Lynx scored under 70 points for the sixth time this season (they are 0-6 in those games) and managed only 32 second-half points.
“If Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles don’t play like our team’s best players …” Reeve began, echoing a season-long theme. “If we don’t have our best players playing at their best, it is a big-time challenge.”
Sunday, it was a five-minute stretch to end the first half that cost the Lynx. Fowles scored on a put-back to tie the score at 33. For the rest of the half, Atlanta outscored the Lynx 16-1, hitting all six shots, four of them three-pointers, to take a 15-point lead.
The Lynx never recovered.
Atlanta, the league’s worst team in three-point shooting percentage entering the game, made 12 of 30 three-pointers, with Tiffany Hayes — a player many thought should have been here for the All-Star Game a weekend earlier — hitting six of 11 for 18 of her 28 points. Alex Bentley scored 19 off the bench and Angel McCoughtry had 11.
Fowles had 17 points and 10 rebounds, but three turnovers. Moore scored 15 points, but took 13 shots. Seimone Augustus had 15 points, too.
“Sylvia is affected by stuff around her,” Reeve said. “Way too affected when something’s not going well. So you’re up and down with her through the course of the game.”
And while Moore and Fowles will always be the Lynx’s key players, against the Dream they got little help. Lindsay Whalen was held scoreless and Danielle Robinson scored six points -- hitting her first three shots before missing the next six. Rebekkah Brunson left the game after getting hit in the nose when she was elbowed by Hayes in the second quarter — it might be broken; further tests are coming — and never returned.
“It’s not good,” Reeve said of her power forward.
The Lynx are just a game ahead of eighth-place Dallas, which holds the last playoff spot, and 2½ games ahead of ninth-place Las Vegas. The Lynx visit Vegas on Thursday.
With only six games left, time is running out to figure this out. “We get to the point where we can’t score,” Reeve said. ‘We go into the fourth and we can’t score, can’t capitalize on some of our better defensive play. And the final score looks bad.”
The Lynx will try to avoid their second four-game losing streak of the season in Chicago on Tuesday.
“There isn’t much to talk about except win,” Fowles said. “Just go out and play. We’re tired of saying it. Coach is tired of saying it. Just play. Win the next game. That’s it.”