In recent seasons, the Lynx’s playoff seed was all but determined by this point, coach Cheryl Reeve was contemplating resting some players and getting ready for the playoffs.
This year it’s a little different.
A 4-5 record in the nine games since Lindsay Whalen broke a finger in her left hand has made things a little tighter, adding pressure to Minnesota’s final three games, starting with Wednesday’s game at Indiana.
“This is a little different for us,” Reeve said. “But every journey is different.”
The Lynx (24-7) enter Wednesday’s game with a half-game lead over Los Angeles (24-8), which has two games left to play. The Sparks host Atlanta on Friday and Connecticut on Sunday. The Lynx finish the regular season at home against Chicago on Friday and Washington on Sunday. Because the Sparks won the regular season series 2-1, they would get the top seed if the teams tie.
And that means there is a very good chance the Lynx need to win out to retain the top seed, which would mean homecourt advantage if the two met in the finals.
Reeve won’t even begin thinking that far ahead, clinging tighter than ever to the “one game at a time” mantra.
“You can’t look past that,” Reeve said. “You look at all three games and it will get overwhelming. You have to lock in and control what you can control. All those things we like to say about just looking at the next game is more relevant now than ever.”
The good news is that both Indiana and Chicago are currently out of the playoff picture, though Chicago could be playing for the final spot. And Washington could have little to play for, as far as seeding, as well.
Still, there is a lot of improvement Reeve needs to see if the team is going to close out the regular season strong. The Lynx, 20-2 with Whalen, have averaged 67.4 points per game in the five losses this month without her. There have been times when the Lynx have struggled to get shots on offense, going into scoring slumps.
In L.A. Sunday, Reeve was frustrated with her team’s defense, especially in the first half.
“It’s probably a case where our offensive frustration led to a lack of defensive connectivity,” Reeve said. “You hope your defense can cover for your offense when it struggles. But in the first half Sunday, we gave up 36 points in the paint in the first half. We came unglued.”
Reeve wants to see better team defense. She has been working with center Sylvia Fowles on doing a better job of passing out of double- and triple-teams. On offense the mantra is doing the little things better to get open — ball fakes, foot fakes, moving without the ball.
“Nobody has to do anything magnificent,” Reeve said. “But we have to do the little things better.”
Reeve doesn’t know whether Fowles will continue to wear the faceguard she has sported recently. Fowles played through a broken nose earlier this season and has, according to Reeve, had to have her nose X-rayed after games three times. Reeve has repeatedly contacted the league regarding uncalled hits on Fowles.