Shortly after the Lynx had defeated first-place Chicago and shortly before she headed to Las Vegas for some time off during the All-Star Game break, Aerial Powers did some hopeful speculation.

After a 3-13 start, the Lynx have won five of seven, including a rout of Las Vegas and a victory over the Sky in the two games heading into the break.

"The way our team feels now, if we get a number behind us, whoever we play is in trouble,'' the veteran guard said.

Translation: Should the Lynx find their way into the playoffs, they could be a serious spoiler.

"I think we can beat any team twice,'' she said.

That is looking way ahead. Even after their strong play into the break, the Lynx enter Tuesday's game against Phoenix at Target Center in 11th place in the league, 1½ games behind Phoenix and New York, who are tied for ninth, and 2½ games out of a playoff spot. The Lynx (8-15) will have to continue their strong play over their final 13 games and hope for some help to qualify for the playoffs for a record 12th straight year.

But there is no question the Lynx have turned a corner in their play after falling 10 games under .500.

There are a number of reasons; a number of stats can be produced to describe the improvement. But the biggest reason, according to coach Cheryl Reeve, is based in intangibles more than numbers:


"It's buy-in to the concepts, to the roles, all those things,'' Reeve said. "Early on it was rough. There wasn't buy-in.''

Rough start

Yes, the Lynx had numerous injury-related problems, including the realization as the regular season was about to start that veterans Layshia Clarendon and Angel McCoughtry were not going to be physically ready. Center Natalie Achonwa, a big part of what has become one of the WNBA's most productive benches, hurt her hamstring early and missed weeks of play. Kayla McBride arrived late from Europe.

But for all that, the struggle to get everyone on the same page was the real problem. Reeve has alluded to this often — how it was the coaches pushing the players early, the coaches pleading for effort, holding players accountable. There were one-on-one meetings with players, group meetings. There were players-only meetings.

For captains McBride and Achonwa it was especially difficult. McBride arrived late, missing training camp. And becoming a vocal leader was challenging for her. Achonwa being injured and not playing made it difficult for her, too. And that left Sylvia Fowles as the lone voice.

Slowly, that changed. After Wednesday's win Reeve talked about a group of players who were finally holding themselves accountable.

"It was all coming from me, and I was the bad guy,'' Reeve said about the start of the season. "It was a fight. There was a lot of fighting getting them to understand what we were doing, especially defensively, wasn't enough. Now the accountability is coming from within. The communication is really good.''

A midseason surge

The numbers show it. During their 5-2 stretch the Lynx are first in in the league in points per game (89.9), offensive rating (113.1) and rebounding, (39.0) second in field-goal percentage (48.2) and third in three-point percentage (39.1).

And the defense is improving. The team's defensive rating the past seven games is 99.1, middle of the pack in the league but far better than it was during the 3-13 start. The Lynx held both Chicago and Las Vegas under 40 percent shooting in their last two wins.

"I would say, the last two games, the defense was elite,'' Reeve said.

Talk about buy-in.

"They're not always easy talks,'' McBride said about the process of pulling the team out of a slow start. "It's not always the things you want to hear. But it's the things that we feel we need to tell each other and talk about. Having those conversations early on, even as hard as they were, having those moments, built us up and put us in this position where we have confidence in each other.''

Powers steps up

After a difficult start in which she may have chafed under intense coaching, Powers has played better defense and her offense has become more efficient. Convinced to abandon shots that weren't falling, her efficiency has soared. Already one of the best in the league at getting to the free-throw line, Powers scored 54 points on 18-for-34 shooting, making five of 10 three-pointers in victories over Las Vegas and Chicago.

As the Lynx have gotten healthy, they've gotten deeper.

Their reserves have averaged 31 points per game the past seven games, best in the league. They are also No. 1 in that time in rebounds (16.9) and assists (8.0) per game.

After Wednesday's game Powers said the team was finally where they all thought it would be. The question is whether it happened too late. Starting Tuesday, they'll find out.

"We all feel great about the work we've put in,'' Reeve said. "And of the challenges we've faced. We were all a part of the solution. We feel great about where we've gotten to.''