The grumbles echoed after every loss, especially lopsided losses. Too old. Party's over. Great run, but time to blow it up and start over.

When exactly did the WNBA playoffs start? Must have missed it.

That's how the Lynx should be judged. On the postseason. Not by what happens in the regular season, regardless of how unusually challenging this one has been.

The Lynx have earned that benefit of the doubt through championship equity.

They're back in the postseason for the eighth consecutive season, but the dynasty finally has started to show cracks and look vulnerable. And, yes, even old at times.

They have their most losses in a season — 13 — since 2010. They lost 13 games the past two seasons combined.

That causes sirens to blare. It's strange to see the Lynx struggle because they've typically only encountered minor hiccups since they started collecting trophies.

Should there be concern? Yeah, maybe. But a franchise that has won four championships in seven seasons — with two additional trips to the Finals in that span — operates by a different set of rules.

Their seasons are measured by only one criterion: Did they win the WNBA title? That's it. Nothing else.

"Don't count us out," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.

That should be their slogan as long as the championship core remains intact, even if that core no longer consistently packs the same punch it once did. Maya Moore has recorded back-to-back 30-plus-point games, but the Lynx have struggled when Moore and Sylvia Fowles don't play to their normal standards, in part because Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus are averaging career lows in scoring and minutes played in their mid-30s.

The organization has won at such a high level for so long that it has become a default setting. Any slippage feels shocking.

If the Lynx flame out in the postseason without making a serious run at defending their crown, the organization probably will commence a teardown. But nobody should arrive at the conclusion just because the team likely won't finish the regular season as a top-two seed.

The path to the Finals will be different, and more difficult, if, as expected, they have to play one or two early-round single-elimination games. But to automatically assume the team's championship core isn't capable of rising to the occasion once playoff pressure kicks in would be selling that group short. I certainly wouldn't bet against Whalen, Moore, Fowles, Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson.

Not until proven otherwise.

"I know our fans want us to be the same bionic Lynx and win another championship," Reeve said. "Believe me, we want that, too."

The next coach who says the regular season doesn't matter will be the first, but Reeve isn't surprised by how this season has unfolded. Frustrated at times, but not surprised.

Changes to the roster, the age of her core and a taxing early part of the schedule gave her concern. She braced for a bumpy road.

Age is undefeated in sports, and no matter how long the Lynx dispelled that truism, physical decline was inevitable. That combined with carrying a target that brings every opponent's best effort explains some of their up-and-down performance.

The Lynx have been hearing about their age for a while. Before the season, Reeve guessed that she first heard the team called "old" back in 2013. That narrative will accompany the Lynx into the playoffs.

The organizational plan to keep their core intact until the championship window closes completely resulted in a dynasty. It's like having a high-performance sports car. Drive it until the wheels fall off, then worry about what comes next afterward.

This season has brought unique challenges. Unique by Lynx standards, at least, with blowout losses and losing streaks. Their ultimate goal — and expectation — has never been a moving target though.

Reeve's former assistant Jim Petersen had a favorite saying for when the Lynx faced an elimination game or found themselves in a tough spot. Never underestimate a champion, he'd say.

Wise advice.

Chip Scoggins