Lynx hoping to catch Phoenix for fourth West title in a row

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2014 - 11:39 AM

The Lynx are playing their best, with a 10-game win streak and a conference title still at stake.

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Forward Rebekkah Brunson (32) helped the Lynx to a nine-rebounds-per-game edge during a recent five-game stretch.

Photo: Stacy Bengs, Associated Press

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Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve talked with her team before it left for Indiana earlier this week. Reeve, normally a next-game-is-the-biggest-game kind of coach, took a bit of a wider view. The team’s goal, she said, is still attainable.

“Our goal is to be the best in the West,” Reeve said of the WNBA’s Western Conference. “That’s still in our sights. Yes, we need help. But we’ll control what we can control.”

Entering Thursday’s game against Chicago at Target Center, the Lynx (23-6) have a 10-game winning streak. Among those wins was a home victory over Phoenix on Thursday of last week that broke the Mercury’s 16-game winning streak. Minnesota is still 1½ games behind the Mercury (26-4) with very little time left.

Minnesota has five games remaining, Phoenix — which plays at San Antonio on Thursday — has six.

After playing the Sky, the Lynx play at Phoenix on Saturday night in a game in which the intensity figures to be off the charts. But even if the Lynx win out in the regular season, they will need some help to tie or pass the Mercury in the Western Conference.

Reeve is confident her team can hold up its end of that bargain, mainly because of the way her team is defending.

In the five games since Reeve’s starting five has been completely healthy and intact, the team’s defense has taken a big jump. In those games, Lynx opponents have averaged 69.8 points on 38.9 percent shooting. That compares to season averages of 77.7 points allowed and 42.5 percent shooting allowed.

Plus, the Lynx are rebounding better, averaging 40.1 in that five-game stretch with a plus-9.0 average edge on the boards.

“We talk about the trajectory through the course of the season,” Reeve said. “And we’re at the highest point we’ve been at, consistently.’’

Even with the occasional blip.

Tuesday in Indiana, the Lynx started poorly, allowing Indiana to score 27 first-quarter points on 47.8 percent shooting. Indeed, the Fever went up by 15 points early in the second quarter and led by six at the half.

But then the Lynx turned up the defensive pressure, holding Indiana to 7-for-30 shooting (23.3 percent) and just 20 second-half points. That allowed the Lynx to pull out a two-point victory on a night when the offense wasn’t operating smoothly.

And it is defense and rebounding, Reeve said, that is crucial as the playoffs approach.

“That is Lynx basketball,” she said. “Winning a shootout is fun to watch, but it’s not the formula for long-term success. Defense and rebounding is what has to happen, coupled with offensive efficiency. We’ve finally gotten into that groove where we’re doing all three things.’’

Maybe that’s why Reeve is reminding her team of its goal of winning the Western Conference for the fourth consecutive season.

It won’t be easy. The Chicago Sky has won three games in a row since star forward Elena Delle Donne has returned from a monthlong bout with Lyme disease. The team has pushed itself into playoff position in the Eastern Conference. After Thursday’s game, the Lynx get a rematch with the Mercury in Phoenix.

But Reeve likes where her team stands.

“It’s well-documented the challenges we’ve had,” she said, referring to injuries the team has dealt with since the start of the season. “We feel good about the way we got through the tough times. We’ll see how things go, how the chips will fall.”

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