Their margin of error whittled razor thin, the Lynx returned from the West Coast after an 0-2, back-to-back road swing to Los Angeles and Seattle in seventh place in the WNBA standings with just seven games to go.
The Lynx lost Thursday to a back-against-the-wall Sparks team that had lost five consecutive at home but had starters Nneka Ogwumike and Alana Beard back from injury. In Seattle on Friday, the Lynx carried a lead into the second half but were downed thanks to a combination of sloppy offense, turnovers and a lack of transition defense.
So now, more than ever, the Lynx have to hold serve on home court, with red-hot Atlanta coming to town for Sunday’s game. It will be the third game in four nights against a top-three WNBA team for the Lynx, just 8-5 at home this season.
“It’s a huge game, huge,’’ Reeve said. For a number of reasons. Though the Lynx are in seventh place — they’re tied with sixth-place Connecticut, but the Sun has the season tiebreaker — the league is still wide open other than the top spot. The Storm has distanced itself from the rest of the league, with a 3½-game lead over Atlanta. But the Lynx are just two games behind the Dream. And, with a 1-1- record vs. Atlanta this season, the winner Sunday would hold a tiebreaker.
“This is a huge gut-check for us,’’ Reeve said. “We’re going against a team that has won nine out of 10. They have found their identity. We have to win our home games.’’
After Sunday’s game the Lynx go on the road to play Chicago and Las Vegas before finishing the season with three of their final four games at home. Minnesota has already secured the season series vs. Dallas and Phoenix but is 1-1 against Washington, Seattle and Atlanta, with games coming against all three. In a playoff race that has been jumbled all season, it looks like the race for spots could go to the final day.
And the Lynx have work to do.
The Lynx are scoring 78.4 points per game, nearly seven per game fewer than last year. That has heightened the need for better defense. Reeve liked the way her team played defense in the half court in Los Angeles and Seattle. But the team’s defense in transition — fueled by their own turnovers — was a problem. Seattle scored 22 points on the fast break, the most by a Lynx opponent this season, and the Sparks and Storm combined to score 53 points off Lynx turnovers.
The Lynx are 12-1 this season when scoring 80 or more points, 3-11 when they don’t.
“We didn’t handle the pressure very well,’’ Reeve said of the losses Thursday and Friday. “Our transition defense is something we’ve been mindful of. It was an emphasis. If we’re not scoring, our mind-set has to be they don’t score.’’
Meanwhile, Reeve is still looking for ways to balance the scoring, particularly when it comes to Maya Moore, who scored in single digits in both losses. “We haven’t found Maya,’’ Reeve said. “That’s tough. We have to do better. It’s one of the things we’re putting a lot of time into — are we getting her the right play calls? Enough play calls?
“We need more than [center Sylvia Fowles].’’