Lynx Refocusing For 3-Game Stretch Before Break

Mark Remme
Lynx Editor/Writer

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Thursday’s 96-90 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks was just that for the Minnesota Lynx: A mid-season defeat on the road against one of the best home-court teams in the WNBA. Nearing the halfway point of the 2012 season, the defending champions continue to learn that every night they take the floor, someone is ready to give them their best fight.

For the Sparks, coming off three straight losses, the victory catapulted them back to within 2.5 games of the Lynx in the conference standings. For Minnesota, which has now lost two straight games for the first time since June 24-26, 2011, the focus is shifting internally. The second half of the season awaits, including a month-long Olympic break, and avoiding a third straight defeat while hosting Connecticut on Saturday will be a big first step in building momentum leading into the league’s long hiatus.

The key? Refocus. The Lynx have the same squad and the same aspirations they had when they were unbeaten just three weeks ago. Their goal is to get back into that unbeatable form.

“We see the potential and we see where we need to be as far as our level of intensity in games and in practices,” center Taj McWilliams-Franklin said before the trip to L.A. “I think that’s more important than anything that anyone else is going to do. I think that’s where we get away from. We look at other teams and we think we’ve got to stop this, got to stop that. But we’ve got to get back to basics where teams have to stop us. We’re the defending champs. No one else can say that this year.”

In two games against Los Angeles this season, the Lynx took over down the stretch in the fourth quarter—finishing on a 10-2 run in their 92-84 win on May 24 at Target Center and ending Thursday’s game on a 31-17 run at Staples Center. The difference between the two contests was in May the Lynx got off to a fast start in the first quarter and hung with the Sparks throughout. On Thursday, L.A. outscored Minnesota in each of the first three quarters, including a 12-point advantage in the third. The Sparks led by as many as 20 at one point in the second half.

The Sparks out-rebounded Minnesota 12-6 in that third quarter before the Lynx responded with a run of their own in the fourth. It just came a little too late.

It was Minnesota’s third straight road loss.

“You’re not going to keep a champion down for four quarters. There was a rough part but they responded,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said. “They did some different things and we didn’t adjust as quickly as we could have, but I’m just really excited about how we bounced back and stood up. With a little rest and practice we’re a pretty good team.”

Two areas the Sparks controlled from start to finish were from the free throw line and from 3-point range. L.A. connected on 50 percent of their shots from behind the arc (compared to Minnesota’s 34.6 percent) while making 28-of-34 free-throw attempts. Minnesota shot 9-of-17 from the line, emphasizing the team’s recent focus on shooting a better free-throw percentage.

Now the Lynx prepare for three games before the break—a trio of contests that will not make or break this Road to Repeat campaign but a stretch that coach Cheryl Reeve hopes will catapult the squad into late-August with momentum.

Beginning with Connecticut on Saturday and road and home tilts against Tulsa on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, the Lynx hope to rally off a stretch of wins that will get them back on track. “That’s the No. 1 focus, we’re playing going into this break,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I want to be playing some of our best basketball going into this break and take some momentum going into that thing. … I think we’ve got to get that feeling of playing great basketball, and that gives us a bounce in our step.”

Minnesota still holds the best record in the WNBA and still leads virtually every offensive statistical category in the league. With games against San Antonio (9-5), Los Angeles (11-6) and Connecticut (10-4) in a seven-day span, Reeve said coming into this week it is the team’s toughest stretch of the season.

When the Lynx return home on Saturday, they’ll get a Connecticut Sun squad that leads the Eastern Conference and has a 4-1 record on the road. Not until Sept. 9-14, when the Lynx will play San Antonio, Chicago and Indiana on the road, will the squad play three games against teams above .500 in the same week.

That stretch takes place during a brutal September schedule in which Minnesota plays six of its final seven games on the road. That means now is the time for the Lynx to shore up some of the parts of their game that need sharpening in preparation for what lies ahead. It will only get tougher as the season goes on.

The Lynx are looking to rebound from their two-game losing streak, and they’re eying these next three games as an opportunity to get back on track. And it all starts from within.

“Teams are stepping up their game,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “Now we have to step up ours.”

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