Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve knows it. She and her staff are aware of it. They have spent a lot of time talking to the team about it.
The team’s defense has to get better.
“It’s on our minds,” Reeve said Monday. “I have to look at ways to improve that.”
The Lynx fell to 13-6 Sunday with their 87-80 loss in New York, a game in which the Lynx led by as many as 12 in the first half. Still up by six midway through the third, the Lynx saw New York go on a 20-6 run. Down by eight in the fourth, the Lynx tied the score with a little more than five minutes left but were outscored 11-4 down the stretch.
In the end the Lynx had trouble guarding in the post, which led to Tina Charles’ career-high 32 points. Minnesota was outrebounded and New York shot 52.1 percent.
This is part of the reason the Lynx have dropped from first place in the Western Conference to second, 1½ games behind streaking Phoenix, which ran its winning streak to seven with a victory Sunday at Los Angeles.
Opponents have shot better than 47 percent in four of those losses, over 50 percent in three of them, and the Lynx have been outrebounded in four of those five losses. In that time opponents’ game plans have become obvious: Go at the Lynx in the post.
“We know, every game — including [Tuesday, when the Lynx host L.A.] the plan will be to go at our bigs,” Reeve said. “That’s not new to us.”
During a 7-0 start to the season the Lynx, with Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen, were able to outscore opponents and win even with defensive lapses. That job is getting harder. Augustus is expected to miss her fourth consecutive game Tuesday because of bursitis in her left knee. The team is being forced to at least prepare for the possibility that Augustus — the team’s second-leading scorer — won’t be available until after the All Star break.
Rebekkah Brunson, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery, is the team’s best defender. But even assuming she returns at some point after the All-Star break, the Lynx will be relatively small in the post.
The Lynx’s fast break, so potent early in the season, has stalled of late, in part because of spotty defensive rebounding.
“It’s a direct correlation,” Reeve said.
She said the team was better defensively early in the season in large part because, with the short WNBA training camp, teams were not firing on all cylinders early in the season. With offenses getting more efficient, defensive lapses have become more frequent and defensive rebounding has become more important.
“It’s apparent to us, it’s not lost on us, that we have to keep working toward that,” Reeve said. “I have to look at ways to help that, look at personnel combinations.”
It doesn’t get any easier for the Lynx, who have four games in nine days — three at home — leading up to the break.