As we hear complaints about the Twins’ collapse and the Wild’s regression, and wait-for-it yearnings about the Vikings and Timberwolves, and continuing worries about the state of sports at the local university, we all should remember that there is relentless excellence in our midst.
The Lynx have won three of the past five WNBA titles, and this year they might be better than ever.
They won’t admit to that, and they shouldn’t. Team sports are evolving mysteries. To win a title you need a little luck and a lot of health as well as talent and group intelligence.
But after relying on their Big Three for five years, the Lynx now feature a Big Four. Not many teams can win titles and then improve, but that’s what the Lynx did last summer by trading for center Sylvia Fowles.
She was named the WNBA Finals most valuable player last fall. That gives the current Lynx roster four players who will compete together in the Zika Olympics, three Finals MVPs, one league MVP and four players with a combined six Olympic gold medals.
With victories over two powerhouse teams last week, Phoenix and Indiana, the Lynx are 5-0. Maya Moore is second in the league in scoring and first in assists. Fowles ranks third in rebounds. Lindsay Whalen recently passed Sheryl Swoopes for 15th place on the all-time WNBA scoring list. Seimone Augustus ranks third on the team in scoring and is one of three players averaging more than three assists a game.
Perhaps more than in any sport, a basketball team can be ruined by ego and dissension. Basketball players make hundreds of decisions in a game, and jealousy or arrogance can cost a team a victory, or a title.
Moore, Whalen and Augustus have played beautifully together since Moore arrived as a rookie in 2011 and they won their first title together. Fowles forced a trade from Chicago last summer and even while helping the Lynx win the championship last fall didn’t seem particularly happy.
At the end of the Lynx’s shoot-around Friday afternoon, Fowles gave coach Cheryl Reeve a big hug, then hugged a few more staff members. She was an engaging interview, as well.
Of winning, she said, “It’s expected, I guess, just from the work we’ve been putting in over the past few weeks. It’s expected for us to go out and play the way we’ve played. The good thing is I don’t even think we’re clicking yet. We’re just down to the base offense of what coach wants. Once we start clicking, I think it will be better basketball for us.”
Friday night, the Lynx almost blew a massive lead against Indiana, as Reeve insisted that her second team learn to fight through a difficult stretch. In an Olympic year, she’ll have to watch her stars’ minutes.
Fowles said learning Reeve’s offense was difficult.
“Last year, yes,” she said. “This year, no. It feels like second nature. It feels like I’m home. So I’m not having any problems getting into the offensive flow now.
“Last year it took until Game 5 [of the finals] for everyone to actually click. I’m ready to get back to that point now. Coach Reeve threw a lot of stuff at me last year.”
The Lynx’s ability to win a title with a new player last season was a testament to their stars’ unselfishness and the adaptability of Reeve and her staff.
With Fowles in the starting lineup and Janel McCarville back to offer defense and passing as a reserve, the Lynx’s only apparent weakness is the inexperience of some second-team players.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence that our teammates have our backs,” Moore said. “We’ve had hot starts before. This is nothing we haven’t done before, but this is a new year and nothing is guaranteed.”
True, but after proving they could win together, Moore, Augustus and Whalen have proven they can win with another star in their midst.