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Lynx Embracing the Challenge of Greatness

The Minnesota Lynx opened their title defense by setting a new record for the best start in WNBA history with a remarkable undefeated run.

That sentence can describe both the 2012 and 2016 Minnesota Lynx.

In 2012, the Lynx began their first title defense with 10 straight wins to open the season. While the start was historic — besting the previous mark of nine held by the 2001 and 2003 L.A. Sparks — the season ended in disappointment as the Lynx lost to the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Finals.

The 2016 Lynx eclipsed their own record with a remarkable 13-0 run that ended on Friday night against the Sparks — whose own 11-0 streak Minnesota had snapped three days earlier.

The Lynx won’t deny that their start to the season is special, but it is not what they are playing for. The real goal cannot be realized until October when the 2016 WNBA champion is crowned.

Most Consecutive Games Won to Start Season

Wins Team Season
13 Minnesota Lynx 2016
11 Los Angeles Sparks 2016
10 Minnesota Lynx 2012
9 Los Angeles Sparks 2001
9 Los Angeles Sparks 2003

 

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve is not shying away from talking about the goal of repeating as champions – to be the first team to win back-to-back WNBA titles since the 2001 and 2002 Sparks.

“It’s our third time doing it. We’ve tried different approaches,” said Reeve. “We knew the first time when we won in 2011 the narrative was ‘everybody’s going to come at you with their A-game.’ We were on a mission to repeat. I think we probably spent too much time talking about how hard it was. And then when you start putting that out there, you really start believing it. That was an Olympic year. In the end it was a mental and physical drain that we weren’t able to overcome.

“And then we win in 2013, so we came back in 2014 and we said we’re not going to talk about it very much. And I didn’t like the way that felt. Because this group loves a challenge and I just felt like with this group, why not? They’ve won three championships in five years and been to four Finals. The four captains, the core, just deserve to have that as part of their legacy. And, so, why not say it? What’s the worst that can happen?”

We got a glimpse of the worst that can happen just last weekend when the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors failed to repeat as champions after a historically great regular season.

The 2015-16 Warriors set a new record for the best start in NBA history, going 24-0 to shatter the previous mark of 15-0. Golden State went on to set the mark for best single-season record at 73-9, besting the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ mark of 72-10.

With 13 wins already, the Lynx are nearly halfway to the WNBA single-season record of 29 wins set by Phoenix in 2014. The Mercury’s 29-5 is the fourth-best record in WNBA history in terms of winning percentage, as the league played fewer games in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Highest Single-Season Winning Percentage

Win% Team Year Record
0.900 Houston Comets 1998 27-3
0.875 Los Angeles Sparks 2000 28-4
0.875 Los Angeles Sparks 2001 28-4
0.853 Phoenix Mercury 2014 29-5

 

That daunting .900 mark set by the 1998 Comets doesn’t seem so far out of reach for a team that has yet to taste defeat this season.

Is it possible that 2016 will produce the best single-season records in both the NBA and the WNBA? Consider this: Golden State’s record-breaking start to the season accounted for 29.3% of its schedule (24 of 82 games). Meanwhile, the Lynx have completed 38.2% of their schedule (13 of 34 games) until their streak came to an end.

But as magical as the Warriors’ season was, it ended with another team hoisting the championship trophy after a crushing Game 7 loss. While regular season accomplishments and records are important, ask anyone on the Warriors if they have been diminished by not reaching their ultimate goal.

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The Lynx have been open about their quest to repeat as champions, but they say they are not talking internally about the winning streak or the best record ever. They are simply focused on the task at hand and letting the accolades pile up as they may along the way.

“We live day to day,” said Reeve. “Where do we have to be today? What are we doing today? And then what time do I have to be somewhere tomorrow morning? It’s just that short-term. It really is just focus about pouring everything we have into the next task. This group is exceptional at doing that. And that’s what’s made us consistently good. They don’t ever look past a game.

“Every time we play, they want to play great. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of. At the end of the day, they know that if we focus on winning this drill, if we just focus on winning this possession, when they look up at the end, perhaps they will achieve some of the goals that we’re talking about.”

“We have an opportunity every time we step on the court to be great together,” added Maya Moore. “This year we have a really special group that enjoys playing with each other, so that’s really our main motivation of wanting to step up and be there for each other and make sure we’re doing everything we can to make this year as special as possible.”

The Last Unbeaten: Top Plays From Minnesota’s 13-0 Start

Another similarity between the 2012 and 2016 seasons for the Lynx is that their title defense occurs during an Olympic year, which features a month-long hiatus from the WNBA season as players compete in the Games. In 2012, the Lynx sent three players to London with Team USA – Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus. For the 2016 Games in Rio, that same trio will be joined by Sylvia Fowles, meaning one-third of the entire USA squad hails from Minnesota.

Will the month off from the WNBA season disrupt the momentum that Minnesota has been able to build? It’s similar to when a team wins a playoff series early and has to wait for their next opponent to be determined. Can they stay in rhythm despite the time off?

“Even if it wasn’t an Olympic year, I had [the] mindset of an aging group,” said Reeve of her veteran squad. “I would really like to be able to focus a lot on playoff basketball and having us in the best position to be ready for the playoffs.”

The Lynx will play their final nine regular-season games after the Olympic break as they prepare for another deep playoff run. With the way they’re rolling now, who knows? They could have the best single-season record in their sights.

However the rest of the regular season plays out, the Lynx will have a chance to cement their legacy in the postseason as they try to become the first team to win back-to-back titles in 14 years and try to match the Houston Comets with the franchise’s fourth WNBA title.

There is one other title that Reeve says this Lynx team wants to accomplish.

“This group wants to be the best of all the groups that’s been there. They want to be the best Lynx team,” she said. “That’s an amazing thing for me. They’re not going to go, ‘I’m getting tired of this. This winning stuff’s getting old. It’s tiring. It’s too much.’

“No, this group, this year, wants to be the best Lynx team ever fielded. That’s really fun as a coach because you get to push them as far as you think they can go.”