The Lynx host the New York Liberty on Tuesday night at Target Center in their last game before hosting the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday. They will not play again for nine days.
For a number of reasons, that makes the game important.
In the first place, it is a game against a struggling team, and the Lynx, 7-5 at home this season, need to go into the break on a positive note.
“It’s a no-brainer,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “That’s the mission for every team going into the break. That’s what we want to do, yes.”
As the season winds down every game gains importance in a league that is as competitive as it has been in years. The top eight teams are separated by just five games. Seattle still has a 2 ½-game lead over second-place Atlanta. But teams two through six are within a game of each other.
And that’s big, given the league’s playoff format. Finishing in the top two gets a team a bye into the semifinals. Finishing third or fourth allows a team to avoid one of two single-game elimination rounds. In both 2016 and 2017 the Lynx and the L.A. Sparks finished 1-2, far clear of the rest of the field. This year it could come down to the final day of the season.
What comes after the break for the Lynx, beginning Aug. 2, could be the defining stretch of the season.
The Lynx play back-to-back at Los Angeles and at Seattle, then come home to play Atlanta. That is three games in four nights against the top three teams in the standings. The Lynx, tied for fifth, will face teams currently holding winning records in six of their final nine games.
The Lynx hosted military veterans and their families at Monday’s practice. They were allowed to watch the workout, listened to a presentation by Reeve — whose father, Lawrence, served two decades in the Air Force — and had their picture taken with players.
And the visitors were able to watch a team on a two-game winning streak that cannot afford to stumble before the break.
“Not only to go into the break feeling good,” guard Lindsay Whalen said, “every game is the next most important one. But this one feels big. I think we’re playing well right now. We’ve put ourselves in position the last two games. We want to finish off this stretch here at home with a good win.”