The quick, perhaps automatic response is to pledge to stay the course. After all, the Lynx, despite their recent lull, are in first place.

But coach Cheryl Reeve, after watching countless hours of film, has been selling her team on the idea of staying the right course.

"It's a fine line," Reeve said. "Staying the course if it's the wrong course is not a good idea. Keeping a perspective on what needs to change and what needs to stay the same but be better. That's where we're at."

Given the expectations this team has made for itself since it started vying for WNBA titles in 2011, the Lynx might appear to have lost their way. Though still first in the Western Conference, they have lost five of their past nine games. That stretch includes two two-game losing streaks, their worst home loss since 2010 and Sunday's loss in Phoenix.

In those five losses the Lynx have been beaten by an average of 13.4 points, not breaking 70 points once.

There have been obstacles. The Lynx have been without Seimone Augustus for much of the season and for much of the recent streak; her injured left foot will keep her out of action indefinitely. And the Lynx have had the challenge of integrating new players — particularly Anna Cruz and Sylvia Fowles — on the fly.

"Excuses are for losers and whiners," Reeve said. "And we're neither of those."

Besides, the issues go deeper than that.

Feeling her team needed to just be on the court together, Reeve focused on scrimmaging in practice this week rather than doing specific drills or working particular plays. She then was able to stop play and correct some of the problems that have been plaguing her team.

In no particular order:

• Turnovers. The Lynx have been getting burned by live-ball turnovers. Over the past nine games, they have been outscored by 42 points in points off turnovers in five losses while posting a plus-five in four victories.

"We're coming down and having empty possessions," guard Lindsay Whalen said. "And those hurt. In tough road games they're hard to overcome. Good teams will make you pay, and they've been making us pay."

• Long stretches of poor play. Reeve said she analyzed the past 10 games and found that the second quarter has been a particular problem — 40 turnovers committed to 22 forced. That's one reason the Lynx have had to rally from double-digit deficits to win six times this year.

• The need for more patience on offense. Often not making the extra pass has resulted in a difficult shot being taken. Maya Moore is averaging better than 20 points per game, but she is shooting a career-low 41.9 percent from the field. Over the past nine games, she has shot 54.7 percent in wins and just 31.9 percent in losses.

"I think Maya's quote, unquote 'struggles,' if you will, are because there isn't the patience as a team to work through the offense and move [the ball]," Reeve said. "That gets easier shots for everyone, Maya included. I think a great player like Maya can make really hard shots, but she's expending a lot of energy to do that."

Said Moore: "Sometimes we want to do something so badly we force things. We have to keep it simple."

A league-wide trend of calling fewer fouls at the rim has affected Whalen, whose free throws are down significantly from her career average. Not getting rewarded for driving to the rim makes it harder to create space on the perimeter. That makes moving the ball that much more important.

None of this is insurmountable, Reeve believes. But it will take work. The Lynx play at New York — which has the best record in the league — on Friday, then return to Target Center for a rematch against Phoenix on Sunday.

"We're going to try to keep perspective on things," Reeve said. "We know what our challenges are. We're working really, really hard to be a good basketball team.''