Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve looked around after practice and saw nearly 50 members of the media there to greet her and her Lynx players to talk about being on the cusp of the best start in WNBA history.
“There are a lot of people here, something must be going on,” Reeve said with a chuckle.
That good humor is hard-earned, as Minnesota has stormed out to a 10-0 record to open the season, matching the best start in WNBA history.
Tuesday night’s game against Indiana – a rematch of last year’s hotly contested WNBA Finals – offers the Lynx an opportunity to hold the mark on their own… for now.
The Los Angeles Sparks are hot on Minnesota’s heels at 9-0 and, if the winning continues, somebody’s undefeated record is going to end on June 21 when the two teams meet for the first time this season in Minneapolis, a game that could be an early preview of the WNBA Finals if these two teams can keep up their dominant play.
Reeve said a strong training camp and good health have pushed the Lynx out to a good start.
“In this league, health is always a big factor,” Reeve said. “First and foremost, everybody came in feeling good.”
And many of the team’s stalwart players came to camp early. Maya Moore was in camp from day one. Sylvia Fowles, Lindsay Whalen, Renee Montgomery, Jia Perkins and Natasha Howard were there early as well.
“It led to a quality camp for us,” Reeve said. “I say it ever year, that what you do in camp shapes the rest of the season. When the season tips off, we want to be ready.
“We didn’t want to evolve into the team we want to become.”
Minnesota has experience, a strong defensive mentality, a multitude of offensive options and now the luxury of depth, which allows the Lynx to rest players during the course of a game.
“We are sharing the ball really easily. There were times last year where we had to exert a crazy amount of energy to get a good shot,” Reeve said. “I’m not worried about how many minutes people are playing. People can go all out. And I don’t have to worry about saving them, because we’ve got people coming in behind them that we are really confident in.”
With three championships in five years, the Lynx are as “hungry as they were in 2011” before they won their first title, their head coach said.
“And that says a lot about this group,” Reeve said.
This group includes four members of the U.S. Olympic Team – Moore, Whalen, Fowles and guard Seimone Augustus. A group that knows what it takes to win.
Not unlike the message coming out of Los Angeles, Reeve said the Lynx haven’t given a second thought to how well the Sparks are playing.
“I think if you click on WNBA.com, you can’t escape the chatter about it, and I think it’s great for the league,” Reeve said. “But I have not watched a single clip on L.A., other than seeing Nneka (Ogwumike’s) incredible game on SportsCenter. I’m happy for Brian (Agler), he’s a great coach. But I can’t tell you why L.A. is playing well. We are focused on the task at hand, and nothing else.”
Nneka Ogwumike’s record-breaking 12-for-12 effort for the Sparks on Sunday against Dallas, turned heads around the league and earned Ogwumike Western Conference Player of the week honors.
Ogwumike’s perfect night from the field set a WNBA record for the number field goals made without a miss, passing Seimone Augustus’ 11-for-11 effort in 2007 for Minnesota.
The athletic forward, who missed 10 games last season with injuries and a concussions, tacked on a 7-for-7 effort from the free-throw line.
Much has been made of Candace Parker’s omission from the U.S. Olympic team, but that wasn’t the only eye-brow raiser. There was also talk that Ogwumike should have earned a spot on the U.S. roster.
But Ogwumike would never publicly express that. She said she’s pointing toward the 2020 Games and trying to get her team a championship.
On Instagram, Ogwumike posted “The outpouring of love from last night has been overwhelmingly gracious! My teammates are the bestest and our fans are even better!”
LOYD FINDING HER GROOVE
Jewell Loyd is figuring things out. Sunday against Indiana, the Storm’s young star hit a late bucket and game-clinging free throws, the second time this season she’s pushed her team to a win with a game winner. In addition, she has a pair of 30-point performances this season.
The second-year guard is averaging 17.4 points a game, which puts her seventh in the league, keeping pace with league stars such as Elena Delle Donne, Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles.
“I’m just feeling a lot more comfortable here, with the team, the camaraderie,” Loyd said. “I put a lot of work into this offseason, but I know I’m still learning and growing.”
Lately, it’s been more growing than learning, but the occasional tough lesson still pops up. Loyd followed up a 30-point game against Phoenix, with a 3-point game just two days later against New York, going 0-for-8 from the field.
“I’m still finding my identity as a player, so there are going to be some ups and downs,” Loyd said. “One game doesn’t define who you are as a player. It’s all about how you bounce back after a tough game.”
The Storm are showing signs that they might be ready to make a run at a playoff spot, with the strong play of Loyd, the resurgence of point guard Sue Bird and the sparkling rookie play of Breanna Stewart.
“We see it in spurts, the kind of team we can be,” Loyd said. “We just need to figure out how to be consistent with it. We’ve got a long way to go.”
THE WINGS DIGGING IN
With five straight losses, Dallas is looking to stop the slide and have to be hoping that getting Skylar Diggins back into the lineup for more significant minutes will help to that end.
Playing in just her second game all season on Saturday against the Sparks, Diggins came up with 13 points, two assists and three steals in 18 minutes. Six of those points came from the free-throw line.
But the Wings could use a lift – particularly on the defensive end, where they have given up more than 90 points in three of those five losses – and Diggins could be one of the players to provide it.
Another team looking to turn the corner is the San Antonio Stars, who currently check in with a 1-7 record, last in the league.
A team that’s already light on marquee players compared to others in the WNBA, the Stars are playing 2016 without All-Star point guard Danielle Robinson. That can be attributed as one of the reasons it’s been an underwhelming year for the Stars.
They have lost four in a row, have yet to win a road game, rank last in the league in scoring, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
Following the weekend’s loss against New York, guard Kayla McBride said she hopes the losses will help down the line. But San Antonio is going to have to begin this turnaround quickly in order to show itself as a playoff team.
“We have to find ways to continue to play,” she said after the Liberty loss. “I think we’re young and when calls don’t go our way we get down a little bit. But I think having these types of games now will help us further down the line during the season.”