Playoff Push Heats Up
Minnesota's professed goal all season has been to make the postseason. It is an achievable goal for almost any team in the WNBA at the beginning of the season with only five teams, two in the Western Conference, missing the postseason. The Lynx looked to be in good shape after going 10-7 heading into the All-Star break and racing out to a strong start.
But now the young team is struggling and last year's Western Conference finalists, San Antonio and Los Angeles, have caught up and made it a three-team race for the final two playoff spots heading into the final four weeks of the season. The Lynx dropped a crucial game to the Sparks on Wednesday and have now lost seven of their last eight games. Coach Jen Gillom said every team has gone through a stretch where it struggles, it is just unfortunate the young Minnesota squad is suffering its losing streak at such a crucial time in the season.
It also does not help that San Antonio and Los Angeles are filled with veteran players who have not only been through tough regular season battles, but also the rigors of the postseason. Minnesota faded down the stretch last season and missed the playoffs. That experience has fueled the Lynx as they tried to maintain a playoff spot, but now that lack of experience seems to be hurting as the team has struggled to get over the hump and back into the win column.
A playoff spot is still no where near out of the question with Minnesota, San Antonio and Los Angeles virtually tied for third place -- Los Angeles holds a half game lead over San Antonio and Minnesota for third place after the Silver Stars lost Thursday. And if the Lynx can right the ship, they certainly can score with the best teams in the league and be a factor with nine games left in the season.
Minnesota's remaining schedule breaks down relatively favorably. The team does play six of its final nine games on the road, but plays last place Sacramento twice down the stretch and gets Detroit, New York and Washington -- the three teams currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference's playoff picture, although not by much -- once the rest of the way. The Lynx also play the Silver Stars and the Sparks one more time, both on the road, with a chance to earn a critical split in those season series.
The Silver Stars still play Los Angeles three times, but have a home-heavy schedule while Los Angeles is still making up for lost home games at the beginning of the season and will play six of its final 10 games at the Staples Center. Two matchups with the Western Conference-leading Mercury highlight the Sparks' remaining schedule.
Either way, coach Jen Gillom said whatever happens this season, it will be a positive growing experience for a young squad that looks to be intact and adding Olympian and perennial All Star Seimone Augustus to the lineup next season.
Wiggins Bouncing Back
Candice Wiggins had a stellar rookie season as she earned Sixth Woman of the Year Award while averaging 15.7 points per game and 3.0 assists per game last year. The guard from Stanford looked to match that effort now in the starting lineup this season.
But it has been an up-and-down ride.
Wiggins started the year off hot, scoring 20 points in the season opener against Chicago and 15.7 points per game in the first three games. She stepped it up even more immediately after Seimone Augustus' injury. Wiggins scored 15.9 points per game in the team's next eight games and earned Player of the Week honors after averaging a cool 23.3 points per game in matchups with New York, Phoenix and Atlanta in late June.
But after that, Wiggins struggled a little bit. She averaged 9.8 points per game on 33.7 percent shooting in July as the team started to struggle after its hot start.
With the Lynx looking for a way to right the ship and end a long losing skid, Wiggins has stepped up once again. She is averaging 15.0 points per game on 41.7 percent shooting in six games in August, returning to the form she had earlier in the year. For the year, Wiggins is averaging 13.2 points per game.
Her leadership and ability will be vitally important for the Lynx to close the season with a playoff berth.
Augustus Named to U.S. Olympic Team
Seimone Augustus has been out since early in the season after tearing her ACL, but that does not mean the rest of the basketball world has forgotten about her. Augustus was one of eight players named to the U.S. National Team for the 2009-12 Olympic cycle. Augustus will join a roster that includes Sue Bird, Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi on the early roster. Augustus will not be able to participate in the initial training camp later this fall, but she said she hopes to be ready and playing at an elite level by the time the 2010 FIBA World Championships roll around in September 2010.
Augustus was averaging 21.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in six games before her season-ending injury. She was arguably playing some of the best basketball of her career as the Lynx rocketed out of the gates to a 4-2 start. She certainly was in the early MVP debate before her year was cut short.
Augustus said U.S. National Team coach Geno Auriemma has been talking with her, spurring her on to be ready for the World Championships next year. Now Augustus has the tangible goal in front of her to get back for her national team and the Lynx too.
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