Perhaps surprisingly, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was upbeat.
Her team was just days removed from a 30-point loss in Los Angeles, the second-biggest loss in Reeve’s three-plus seasons as head coach. The Western Conference race is becoming tighter than a snare drum.
And yet, 10 games into the season, Reeve is happy with her team.
“For this season, and with what we’ve seen, we’re pleased with where we’re at,” Reeve said after a particularly crisp practice last week preparing for Sunday’s home game with Phoenix. “We’re not pleased with getting drilled on the road in two of our last three losses. We’re not pleased with going to Washington [June 8] and not getting the job done, in a place we should have. But to be 7-3, to be on top of the West? You want to look at your trajectory. Are we on an upward trajectory? And this team is.”
The Lynx are tied for first place in the West with Phoenix, lending even more importance to Sunday’s game, and Los Angeles. Those teams are 8-4, only percentage points behind.
And it is in the middle of a crucial stretch of the season. Since June 19 the Lynx have played L.A. three times (all three blowouts by the home team, including Minnesota’s win at Target Center) and Phoenix once. Starting Sunday the Lynx will play Phoenix three more times before the end of July. On Tuesday, Minnesota will host 10-1 Atlanta, then embark on a four-game road trip.
The Lynx, basically, have had at least a share of the Western Conference lead (discounting their one-week late start this season compared to most teams) since July 20, 1011.
That could change quickly. But it won’t necessarily change Reeve’s assessment of how this season has begun. Last year, when the Lynx started the season 10-0, she knew her team wasn’t playing as well as the record indicated.
This season Reeve feels her team is playing better than the three losses might indicate. And her players agree.
“We’ve definitely had some bumps in the road,” forward Maya Moore said, “but we’re moving forward. It’s just consistency now. When we are rolling, it’s really, really good. But being able to sustain that is the key. We’ve had some early tests, but we’ve been able to bounce back from those tests, and that’s been a good sign.’’
They hope it happens again Sunday. The Lynx will carry a franchise-record 13-game home winning streak into the game with Phoenix, a team the Lynx has beaten twice this season, by 20 at home June 6 and by 11 in Phoenix on June 19.
But this is a healthier and more competitive Mercury this time. Star forward Penny Taylor, who missed all of last season after knee surgery, has finally returned, playing in the past two games. Brittney Griner, a 6-8 center and the top overall pick in the 2013 draft, is coming into her own, averaging 17 points and 2.8 blocks per game over her past five games. Star guard Diana Taurasi scored nearly 100 more points than anyone else in the WNBA in June.
The Mercury, the league’s best road team (5-2), has won five consecutive games, eight of its last nine.
So, in the next two games, the Lynx will host the league’s two hottest teams.
“I think we’re where we need to be,” guard Seimone Augustus said. “We do have some things to tweak and work on, but so far so good.”