Tuesday Practice Report
The Phoenix Mercury sit a seemingly distant five games ahead of Minnesota for the top spot in the Western Conference. While the Lynx struggled through July -- finishing the month just 3-6 -- the Mercury surged to take a comfortable lead at the top of the standings.
Now in the midst of a three-game losing streak, Minnesota can see San Antonio only a half game behind for third place and Los Angeles two and a half games out of third place. The Lynx needed a change of attitude with six days between Saturday's home loss to the Mercury and Friday's game against the Sun at the Target Center.
"We're chasing Phoenix," coach Jen Gillom said. "We're not thinking about the people behind us. We're looking forward. We're chasing Phoenix for that first spot. That's how we're going to think."
Minnesota got a much-needed respite from games this week and is taking full advantage of it. The high-intensity practices are helping the team get back to the winning mindset that helped it race out to an unexpected start and a place among the Western Conference's elite.
Gillom said she has probably put too much emphasis on avoiding Los Angeles and just getting into the playoffs. The first step to regaining the confidence Minnesota had early in the season is to set its eyes on the top.
That kind of refocusing has been one of the primary focuses for the Lynx in practice this week.
"Obviously we need a lot of change on this team if we want to turn this season around," Wiggins said. "I think we've had a lot of success. We've also had a lot of disappointments. Right now all we can do is get together and try to change the things that have been keeping us back this year."
Guard Candice Wiggins said the team has gotten a nice mental break by having the long break between games. The break should give the team the opportunity to change its attitude and energy and rediscover the team's identity that made it so successful early on in the season.
Gillom said the team needed the long stretch of practices to regroup. The team has been traveling a lot lately and have not had much of an extended break. Gillom said the time without games will be used to help the players get shots up and regain the mental edge that has been missing. It will also give the coaches plenty of opportunity to point out mistakes from recent games and plenty of practice time to correct them.
"We haven't been playing our kind of basketball lately," Gillom said. "We've been kind of playing the other team's tempo. We need to get back to our tempo. We get back to our tempo, I don't think we'll have a problem."
But the time off also gives the teams behind them a chance to catch up.
The Lynx's three-game losing streak will have them fighting off last year's Western Conference finalists -- the Silver Stars and the Sparks -- for the final two spots in the playoffs. With San Antonio's win over Los Angeles, who saw All-Star center Lisa Leslie return to game action for the first time since June 19, on Tuesday, Los Angeles has 11 losses, one more than Minnesota. It will certainly be a fight until the end of the season for those final two postseason spots.
The 10-10 record will be familiar to the Lynx. Last year, they were an even 10-10 after 20 games. Minnesota only won six games the rest of the way and fell short of the postseason.
But this year feels different. Wiggins said the team had low expectations. That may have contributed to the team's failure to make the postseason.
This year, the team has set the bar high and that should push them to achieve its ultimate goal.
"It's hard to say where we were last year," Wiggins said. "We're kind of at the point that our expectations weren't that high. But when you have really high expectations, you do the things that are going to help you meet those goals. You're only as great as the standards you set for yourselves. Setting that standard really high is huge for us and that's a really great way for us to think the rest of the season." Whether the Lynx end up catching the Mercury or not, they will certainly push hard to have a chance to catch them in late September.
Jen Gillom Audio
Jen Gillom said the team is changing its focus from worrying who is behind Minnesota to trying to catch Phoenix down the stretch.
Candice Wiggins Audio
Candice Wiggins senses a big difference in this year's team compared to last year's team after 10-10 starts.
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