The last time the Lynx played the Seattle Storm, it was the second game of this 22-game condensed season being played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. And it was a difficult night, one that ended with a 90-66 loss to the Storm. It still is Minnesota's most lopsided loss this season.
With the top four teams in the WNBA bunched tightly and just a week's worth of games left, the Lynx and Storm will play again Sunday. A lot has changed since their first meeting.
"We're a completely different team," coach Cheryl Reeve said after her team had beaten Dallas on Friday for its third consecutive victory, putting the Lynx in a tie for third place with Los Angeles, and currently with the tiebreaker over the Sparks.
All teams evolve during a season. But the difference with the Lynx is stark.
On July 28 against the Storm, center Sylvia Fowles had not yet been injured. The Lynx started a backcourt of Shenise Johnson and Lexie Brown. Odyssey Sims wasn't with the team and Bridget Carleton was a lightly used sub. Napheesa Collier had not found her groove and Crystal Dangerfield, who had yet to start, went scoreless.
Now? Dangerfield has emerged as the leading WNBA Rookie of the Year candidate and has scored in double figures in 15 consecutive games. Collier has emerged as a scoring and rebounding leader. Damiris Dantas appears to have taken a step up. And Sims on Friday looked a lot like she did during her All-Star 2019 season, scoring 16 points in 16 minutes on 5-for-6 shooting with three assists.
As an added bonus, Sims' mom and young son Jaiden — born in April — cleared quarantine and joined Sims in the WNBA bubble Saturday. Carleton has emerged as a strong starter, averaging 9.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 11 starts, shooting 55.4% overall, 54.8% on threes.
This is a team that has found it's offensive rhythm.
"I am excited," Collier said about the rematch. "… We've grown a lot as a team since then. Obviously they have, too.
"Our defensive schemes have gotten a lot better. All together, offensively and defensively, I think we've grown so much in a short time."
The Lynx have been sharing the ball. In their last game, they had six players score between 11 and 18 points against Dallas. In their past three games, the Lynx have averaged 90 points, shot 49.8% overall and 50.7% from three; they have hit 10 threes in three straight games, a franchise first.
"[We are] just putting people in positions to be successful," Collier said. "Not taking hard shots. Driving and kicking or taking open three when we have them. Just making the easy plays."
The Storm, though, will be a test. For all the Lynx's offensive success, the defense has struggled at times of late. And the Storm's athletic roster will challenge the Lynx at both ends of the floor.
"Seattle is the best combination of offense and defense," Reeve said. "Their defensive rating is [91.9]. That's going to be a big-time challenge for us.
"We have to make sure our defense is at an elite level."