There is a reason why Saturday’s WNBA All-Star game will seem, in some ways, to be just another Lynx road game.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and her staff will be there. Ditto for four Lynx players: Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson.
Moore and Augustus were voted by fans to be starters for the Western Conference team. Brunson joined them Friday, when Reeve announced her glass-cleaning forward would replace the injured Brittney Griner in the starting lineup. Originally, Brunson and Whalen made the team as reserves, selected by the league coaches. At some point Saturday, Reeve said, she’d like to get all four of her players on the court together.
They’ve earned it.
Halfway through the season, the Lynx (14-3) have the best record in the WNBA and a 2½-game lead over Los Angeles in the West. Minnesota has won a league-best seven consecutive games and has the best midseason record — by one victory over 2011 and ’12 — in franchise history.
“We’re reached a pretty high level of play,” Reeve said. “We’ve become a very good basketball team.”
There are many reasons for that. The Lynx are third in the league in scoring (82.9 points per game), and second in the league in scoring differential (plus-8.59). Whalen, running the point, is playing perhaps the best basketball of her career.
But the most important reason is defense. On a team with so much offensive talent, it is defense that will separate the Lynx from the rest of the league. And in the seven games since a one-sided loss in Los Angeles, the Lynx have ratcheted up the defense in a big way.
During their seven-game winning streak — including five games against teams currently in playoff positions and four on the road — the Lynx have won by an average of 15 points. In that stretch, Lynx opponents have averaged 37.7 percent shooting, 18.1 turnovers and 69.3 points.
The Lynx have dominated despite not shooting particularly well from three-point range and with Augustus out for 3½ games with a sprained left ankle.
“We’re right where we need to be,” Augustus said. “We had a few hiccups in the beginning. But we’ve kind of found our groove. Defense is the key. It’s all Coach Reeve kinda worries about. It’s about making other teams’ lives miserable.”
But it took a while. The Lynx played poorly in a loss in Washington in their third game, then suffered two one-sided losses in Los Angeles. But since the last rout there, things have changed.
“That Washington game seems like a year ago,” Reeve said. “We’re a far different team, as I’m sure most teams are. The light bulb has really gone on for us, about the physical toughness, the mental toughness, the defensive toughness we need to have. We know what we have to do to get things done, and that’s the dirty work. The consistency that this team plays with is something people take for granted. I think it’s really hard to do.”
The key, then, will be to pick up where the team left off after the break. Reeve gave the rest of her players four days off. Practice will resume Monday with the All-Stars given the day off. Still, the schedule — the Lynx don’t play again until Friday — will give the players plenty of time to ramp back up.
Of course, Reeve wants to see improvement. She’d like to see better three-point shooting, especially out of Augustus, who is 7-for-31 from behind the arc (22.6 percent). There are further steps to be taken on defense. Maya Moore’s average of 16.4 points is the same as last season, but her scoring could be more consistent.
But the bottom line looks pretty good, so far.
“This looks to me a little closer to 2011,” Reeve said of the team that won the WNBA title. “We have a real strong recognition of who we are, and each game we’re applying those things. I think we’ve been pretty hard to play against.”