Gazing around Xcel Energy Center on Monday, Maya Moore noticed the color that the Lynx have in common with the Wild. “Lot of green in here,” the Lynx forward said. “Green means go. And it’s go time.
Ten days after the end of the WNBA’s regular season, the Lynx finally will launch their title defense Wednesday, facing Phoenix in the best-of-five semifinals at Xcel. The league’s new playoff format sent the top-seeded Lynx directly to the semifinals, allowing them a long break. While they rested and practiced, the eighth-seeded Mercury roared through road victories over Indiana and New York, starting the playoffs on a powerful note after a rocky regular season.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve made the most of the time off. Three idle days at the start allowed her veteran lineup to be refreshed in mind and body, before the team polished its game through a series of intense practices.
That had become old by Tuesday, when the Lynx celebrated the end of their last practice — and the beginning of their quest to become the first team to repeat as WNBA champions since Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002.
“Wednesday can’t get here fast enough,” said Moore, who is among four Lynx starters beginning their sixth playoff run together. “We’ve been so fortunate to have such special groups over the past few years. This one has the potential to be the most special, just because we’ve got the biggest collection of experience and talent all at the same time.
“It’s just a real fun team, an unselfish team. All the pieces are in place to go out and create our own history and destiny. We just want to reward each other for all the hard work that’s been put in.”
On Monday, the Lynx tried out their temporary home at Xcel. A scheduling conflict at Target Center forced a change of venue for Games 1 and 2, adding another fresh twist to go along with the new playoff schedule.
Their first opponent is as familiar as it gets. For the fourth year in a row — and the fifth time in the past six seasons — the Lynx will play Phoenix in the semifinal round, renewing one of the WNBA’s most entertaining rivalries. Unlike the Lynx, which went 28-6 and set a franchise record for regular-season victories, the Mercury stumbled hard at the start and is just now regaining its form.
A different Mercury
Phoenix played the Lynx three times in the season’s first eight games and was swept as part of its 4-9 start. Olympians Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner remain the Mercury’s biggest stars, but forwards Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner and guard Marta Xargay played critical roles as Phoenix made the playoffs despite a 16-18 mark in the regular season.
The Mercury has won five of its past six games and thrived in the single-elimination crucible of the playoffs’ first two rounds. Five players are averaging 10 points or more in the playoffs, led by Taurasi (25 points per game) and Griner (20).
“I’m quite sure they’re feeling good about themselves,” Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said. “They look like they’re starting to hit their stride. All of them are starting to come together and get that chemistry that we all know they have. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in this series, but we’ve got to focus on what we need to do to try and stop them.”
To that end, Reeve directed some highly focused practices during the break. She pared the Lynx playbook to its most effective and efficient plays and held a scrimmage with officials to keep her team sharp. The Lynx also devoted a chunk of time to working on late-game situations.
The Lynx finished the regular season at or near the top the WNBA standings in several categories, including points per game (85.8), points allowed per game (77), assists per game (20) and field-goal percentage (47.1).
The Mercury may have the momentum, but Moore said the Lynx can’t wait to see what they can do.
“This is such a fun matchup for both teams,” Moore said. “It’s a long series, but every minute of it, I think, is going to be very high-intensity.
“They definitely know and have the experience to do what it takes in the playoffs. We know they expect that from us as well.
“We really enjoy playing with each other, so we’re very highly motivated to want to continue to play for and with each other.
‘‘I want to do everything I can to keep us on the floor as long as possible.’'