For Lynx, The Playoffs Begin Now
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Jim Petersen’s been part of the Lynx coaching staff for five seasons, three of which—including this year—involved chases for the top seed in the West. But he’ll admit not one of those years quite resembles 2013—particularly when it comes to the heavy implications getting settled in the final week. So much is at stake with so little time before the postseason begins.
The Lynx are in the thick of it all. Fresh off an 83-74 win over the Sparks on Wednesday, Minnesota now begins a hellish stretch of basketball that includes back-to-back road games in Seattle followed by a trip to Los Angeles before wrapping up at home against the East’s top team, Chicago.
That’s four games against playoff teams, all of whom have something to play for. The Storm are trying to secure the No. 3 seed in the West. L.A., sitting 2 ˝ games behind Minnesota, still statistically has a shot at the West’s No. 1 seed. And Chicago, with its 21-8 record, is eying the WNBA’s best record in order to secure home court throughout.
Right now, the Lynx sit atop all those storylines with the league’s best record and a chance to solidify that spot by winning these games down the stretch. But in the process, they’ll be facing incredibly difficult environments and teams with something to prove. In many ways, the playoffs have already begun.
That’s the way the Lynx like it.
“I think things work out for a reason,” Petersen said. “There’s a reason why we have to go through this, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Home stretch runs like this can lead to two different outcomes. On the one hand, the Lynx have championship experience on their side. They’ve been through pressure situations before, and getting to see three potential playoff opponents in successive order—it’s very possible the Storm, Sparks and Sky will be the exact three teams between Minnesota and the title—could be just what the team needs to catapult itself into postseason mode for good. On the other hand, it will be a grueling four-game stretch that includes a majority of the week on the road. Physically, that can take its toll.
Yet when it comes down to it, Minnesota’s daily mindset takes that out of the equation. One of the reasons the Lynx won a combined 54 games the past two seasons and are sitting at 23-7 right now is they don’t take any one day for granted. Their mindset is to focus on the next game at hand, then move on. Getting caught up in the totality of this stretch—or the entirety of a season, for that matter—can weigh on a squad. The Lynx’s motto is tackle one challenge at a time, and that mentality paved the way to a WNBA title and another Western Conference championship in the past two years.
“[We need to] win a game in Seattle. We’re in playoff mode,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We want to win games. You guys are going to talk to them about standings watching and all that kind of stuff. I told them not to listen to [the media].”
This is the point in a season when teams separate themselves from the rest. The Lynx made a big statement on Wednesday by beating the Sparks at home, and they did so while staving off a late L.A. push that, in many ways, replicated the type of playoff urgency they’ll see later this month.
The win carries particular weight for a couple different reasons—all pertaining to this late season push. For one, it puts the Lynx’s magic number to clinch the West’s top seed at two games. And because of that, it puts Minnesota in position to wrap up that home court advantage that is so very important in WNBA playoff series. The home team has won the last nine regular season meetings between L.A. and Minnesota, who are the favorites to meet in the Western Conference Finals. You think playing Games 1 and 3 at home will make a difference in that series?
“We want to make sure our fans see us the most,” Maya Moore said. “And whenever we can get home court advantage is a huge advantage for us.”
You can see the gears getting cranked up a notch. For instance, Reeve praised Seimone Augustus after Wednesday’s win because of her focus leading into the game. When Augustus is in that mode, Reeve said, the Lynx are in good shape. Augustus finished with a team-high 23 points in the win.
“If you don’t turn it up now, I don’t know when you’re going to turn it up,” Augustus said. “We have all been there. We have all experienced the playoffs except for a few rookies we have. I’m going to do what I have to, to make sure we get back in position of winning the championship.”
And with that, the Lynx start the postseason about a week earlier than the WNBA mandates. Much can change between now and mid-September, but Minnesota is preparing and focusing to make sure their position remains stationary.
“It all matters,” Petersen said. “We’re game-planning like it’s a playoff series. All [four] games, it’s playoffs for us. The playoffs have already started for us, and that’s how we’re looking at it.”
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