The Lynx never were coy about their ambition. Before the season began, players and coaches publicly aired their goal of winning a fourth WNBA title, a feat that would make them the first team to repeat as league champions since Los Angeles in 2001-02.
The talk, though, quieted once the regular season began. Experience has taught the Lynx that looking into the future is counterproductive, and looking into the past is irrelevant. Concentrating solely on the game in front of them got the Lynx to the WNBA Finals for the fifth time in six years, and the veteran team isn't about to abandon that approach in Sunday's Game 1 of its best-of-five series against Los Angeles.
After three days off to recover from a hard-fought semifinal sweep of Phoenix, the Lynx resumed practice Thursday. Coach Cheryl Reeve recalled that the first time they played the Sparks this season both teams were undefeated, and the Lynx won to run their record to 13-0.
She liked the tight focus her team displayed then, and she is looking for the same as it prepares for the finals opener at Target Center.
"When we won, other people were excited because we were still undefeated," Reeve said of a 72-69 victory on June 21 that gave the Lynx a WNBA record for most victories to start a season. "But we were excited because we won that game. We're a little like that now.
"We won the Phoenix series, then we folded that up and put it away, and it's on to the next thing. We call the idea of repeating the end result, and we don't focus on the end result. We know if we win the series, we repeat."
The WNBA got the result it wanted from its new playoff format. The Lynx and Sparks were the league's two best teams throughout the regular season, with the Lynx finishing 28-6, the Sparks 26-8.
They played three times in the regular season, and the Lynx went 2-1 with two road victories — including that much-hyped first meeting, when Los Angeles went in 11-0. The Lynx finished the season with the WNBA's best offensive and defensive ratings, while the Sparks had the league's third-best offense and second-best defense.
The series is stuffed with stars. Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike was named the WNBA's most valuable player, and Lynx forward Maya Moore and Los Angeles forward Candace Parker are former league MVPs.
Reeve was named WNBA coach of the year last week, beating out the Sparks' Brian Agler, a past winner. The Lynx have the current WNBA defensive player of the year in Sylvia Fowles, and the Sparks' Jantel Lavender is the league's reigning sixth woman of the year.
Reeve predicted Thursday the series will come down to "minutiae." Both teams are so evenly matched and know each other so well, she said, that games are likely to be decided by details such as free throws or execution out of a timeout.
"They're a team that likes to run," Moore said of the Sparks. "They get out in transition so well, and they create easy points off of defense with pressure and length.
"We're going to have to be poised and play our game despite their pressure. And we need to make it hard for their key players to do what they want."
The trick, Moore said, will be for the Lynx to continue doing what got them to the finals while trying to elevate their play — something they've been working to do each day, in the service of their ultimate goal.
"We have done a lot over the years, but we're always striving for more," guard Lindsay Whalen said. "We always want to do better.
"We're not thinking about [a repeat] as pressure, like 'Oh, we have to get it done.' It's something we want. We worked hard to get here. So has L.A. And each team is going to go out and try to do what they do."