It should be noted that the Lynx are not alone.
Much has been made of Minnesota’s up-and-down season. The 3-6 start, the seven-game winning streak. Seemingly inexplicable losses to Indiana and Chicago wrapped around a stirring victory over Los Angeles.
In their past 12 games the fifth-place Lynx have gone 9-3, with victories over Seattle (first in the WNBA), Phoenix (second), Washington (third) and Los Angeles (fourth).
Even with an 11-8 record, the Lynx remain in the mix for first place, only three games behind Seattle and two out of second place because most of the rest of the better teams have struggled at times, too. The Sparks have lost six of their past 10. Phoenix has had losing streaks of three and two games already. Washington had a three-game losing streak earlier in the season and has lost two of their past four.
“It’s a funky year,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “How many losses do we have, and we still have a chance of achieving our goals? But it’s not about that right now. We’re locked in on wanting to play at a higher level.”
The key to that? Balance, which is something the Lynx worked on while preparing for Wednesday’s matinee at Indiana.
So far this season, Lynx fans can be certain of this: When both Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles play well, the Lynx win. When one of the two play well, they almost always win.
When both struggle?
“We score 59 points when that happens,” Reeve said.
The Lynx are 8-1 when Moore scores 20 or more points, 6-1 when Fowles scores 20 or more and a perfect 3-0 when both do. Conversely, Minnesota is 3-7 when Moore fails to score 20 and 5-7 when Fowles scores under 20. In the six games neither has scored 20, the Lynx are 0-6.
“In order for us to be more than a couple games over .500, we need balance on the team,” Reeve said. “We can win games if Maya and Syl are good. But in order for us to achieve higher-level goals, it’s always been about balance. It’s about finding points at the point guard position. It’s about the bench [playing well].”
Last year Moore averaged 17.3 points per game and Fowles 18.9. In an interesting statistical quirk, this year Moore is at 18.9 and Fowles 17.3. The point: The team is getting the same production out of the pair this year as they did while going 27-7 last season.
Reeve just needs more from everyone else.
“We need a third scorer, every game we need a third scorer,” Reeve said. “Whether that comes from another starter, or a bench player, you need a third scorer. But you also need the others to have that something extra. Can’t just be three scorers. To be a really good offensive team those are things you hunt for. In our stretch when we were really good, it’s because Maya and Syl were really good. It’s not because we had balance.”
So looking for that balance is key.
Last season the point guard combo of Lindsay Whalen and Renee Montgomery averaged about 16 points per game. This year Whalen and Danielle Robinson are at 11.3. Room for improvement there.
Last year, forwards Rebekkah Brunson, Plenette Pierson and Natasha Howard averaged 10.2 points, 5.2 points and 4.3 points per game, respectively. This year Brunson, who is doubtful for Wednesday’s game because of a thigh injury, is at 7.7 and the Lynx have struggled to find a reliable backup for her.
Reeve said after practice Monday that given the way the Lynx have been playing defense, the goal is to score 80 points per game. If Moore and Fowles contribute a combined 36, one formula for success would be to get 15 from the point guard position, 15 from the power forwards and the 15 or so they’re currently getting from Seimone Augustus and Tanisha Wright at shooting guard.
Hurting the bench production vs. Indiana could be the absence of small forward Cecilia Zandalasini. She is questionable because of an ankle injury.
“We’re finding different ways to get there,” Reeve said. “We’re looking at our actions. This is the point in time when you have a couple days you can look pretty hard at what you’re not doing well. Let’s cull those things back. Some of it is personnel, some is schemes.”