After starting the 2019 WNBA regular season as one of the hottest teams in the league, the Minnesota Lynx have cooled off as of late.
The Lynx jumped to the top of the WNBA standings following the first week of the regular season, starting the year with a perfect 3-0 record and ending up 4-1 after their first handful of games.
Recently, as teams around the league begin to approach the quarter-mark in the regular season, Minnesota has hit a series bump in the road.
Since that hot start to the season, the Lynx have lost four straight games as they enter Saturday’s game against the New York Liberty at Target Center. That rough patch has also included losing five of the last six and three straight at home.
“There’s a sense of urgency after one (loss), especially now,” Lynx point guard Danielle Robinson said. “Being at home, those are the ones you have to get and to now have dropped three, it sucks, but we’re looking up.”
After a late-game collapse and loss to the Las Vegas Aces last Sunday in Minneapolis, Minnesota holds a record of 4-5 overall and has fallen into the middle of the pack in the league standings.
“This is a time when we need each other. We need to make sure that we come in and don’t play the name game and we hold each other accountable,” Sylvia Fowles said following Sunday’s loss. “At the same time, knowing that it’s a team thing and we will get better eventually.”
What is Holding Minnesota Back?
Although a loss still goes down as a loss whether it’s close or not, the Lynx haven’t been losing games by much so far this season, often seeing the game get out of reach in the second half and in the fourth quarter. In its five losses on the year, Minnesota has lost by an average of 5.2 points.
“We need to know that we are giving ourselves a chance. We’re not losing by that much so it’s the little things that we’re not doing so well,” Fowles said. “In the last five minutes of the game, just make sure we are locked in and stay focused at the task at hand.”
That late-game production and the struggles offensively have been two key factors in the Lynx experiencing these early-season losses and coming up short in crunch time.
“Relying on our team to execute offensively right now is not where our bread is buttered. It’s something we have to improve upon,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “This is not an execution team, not yet. This is a team that does its best when they don’t look over and go ‘where am I supposed to be?’ and ‘I didn’t hear that play’ and there’s been a lot of that going on.
“You expect that and you just stick with it and stick with it, but in that, there are a lot of plays that we are running that we’ve basically looked at and said ‘what do we look good running?’ Reeve continued. “As a staff, we said let’s stick to what we look good and feel good doing. … For now, until this group plays together more, that’s necessary.”
The offense has been a glaring issue all season long for Minnesota, but in the fourth quarter alone, the Lynx have really struggled. That has been the case as of late especially.
The Lynx rank last in the league in points scored (15.8 per game), turnovers (5.6) and plus/minus (minus-4.4), while ranking 10th in opponent field-goal percentage (48.1 percent), eighth in points allowed (20.2) and seventh in field-goal percentage (41.6 percent) in the final frame.
“I think it will be good to get better offensively still. With our execution, I think that will really put us in a position where, whether we’re getting stops or not, we’re seeing balls go down and we are putting each other in the right position offensively,” Robinson said. “We’re still struggling with that a little bit, so I think once we put that and our defensive grit that we have right now together, we’ll be really good.”
The defense displayed by the Lynx so far this year has been at or near the top in the WNBA and has been a big key in them staying in games and coming away with some wins early on.
But this young Minnesota team will have to focus on improving its offense and late-game production to match its defensive play in order to get back on track and break free of its current losing streak.
Rest and Regroup
After a busy opening schedule to start the year, the Lynx are in the middle of having a nice stretch off between games as they try to rest up, regroup and get things back on track.
Following its loss last Sunday to Las Vegas, Minnesota has the entire week of this week prior to wrapping up its current three-game homestand against the New York Liberty on Saturday at Target Center.
“(The week off) is going to help a lot. I think we are the only team in the league that has played the amount of games to this point,” Fowles said. “I think this is going to be a time to rest, regroup, refocus and work on the things we need to work on.”
In July, the Lynx will also have somewhat of a lighter schedule, which could benefit them as they try and battle their way back up to the top of the WNBA standings.
During the month of June, Minnesota will have played a total of 10 games throughout the month. With the exception of this week, almost all of those games have been with just one day of rest in between, which isn’t very common in the WNBA.
In the upcoming month of July, the Lynx will play a total of eight games, four of which will come on the road and four at home. The nice thing for Minnesota during that span is it will have an average of almost three days of rest in between each game.
With a large amount of turnover from last year’s team and dealing with some early-season injuries thus far, this brief break in the action for the Lynx and a chance to catch their breath could prove to be a turning point in the year moving forward.
“The first quarter of the season is done and now we have a week to prepare and get better. (The losing) stings. … It’s just about us finishing games now,” Robinson said. “That’s the beauty of a season, you have those ebbs and flows and you have those ups and downs, but it’s about the journey that you have with each other.
“We believe in each other, we trust each other and we are looking forward to getting back out there and competing again.”