Lynx see focus as key in tough stretch run

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 7, 2012 - 6:54 AM

Minnesota will be prepared for the playoffs after playing six of its final seven regular-season games on the road.

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Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve during the second quarter.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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When Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve sees her players in a circle, heads down, arms on teammates' shoulders, she sees a team that's ready to finish out the season strong.

Most of the time her players come out of those huddles -- taken after falling behind in a game or finding themselves in a mini-slump -- with a new strategy, a new optimism and energy.

"We stop the bleeding," Reeve said.

It's a strength the team has found in the second half of the season, pushing aside a three-game losing streak before the Olympic break, the only real slipup of the season, to make way for a nine-game winning streak that had been achieved, they say, by keeping their wits about them no matter what.

And it's something the Lynx will need to do more than ever as they head into a tough final stretch. After Friday's home game against Atlanta, the Lynx will play six of their last seven games on the road.

"We're at the point of the season where it's a grind," Maya Moore said. "We're going to really just have a high level of focus. And we feel like when we do that, we can't be beaten."

The last time the Lynx were beaten seems long ago. In July, the team lost three in a row -- at San Antonio, at Los Angeles and against Connecticut, a span that has stuck with it since.

"I think that happened because we had been playing mediocre basketball up 'til that point and winning, and that gives you a false sense of victory," veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin said.

But that period was critical to getting the team focused the way they were a season ago, when they won the WNBA title, Reeve said.

Just as the Lynx were targeted in July as the team to beat, they will be again now. The defending champions -- who have the best record in the league at 22-4 and are four games up on second-place Los Angeles in the West -- face a battery of tough teams, including San Antonio twice on the road, Los Angeles on the road and a home-and-away against Indiana.

Reeve said the team had tried to "hold back" bits and pieces of offense and strategy throughout the year to help give an element of surprise now, when everyone is tired. And the Lynx constantly are tweaking their offense. Still, with teams who have faced each other this many times -- the Lynx already have seen San Antonio and Los Angeles three times each -- game planning often gives way to simple execution and passion.

"It's not really about X's and O's when you play a team five times and you see them in the playoffs," McWilliams-Franklin said. "It's about who wants it, who's willing to go the extra mile, who gets more of the 50-50 balls ... it's not about stopping a certain play or keeping this offense or that, it's just the bare bones of the game."

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