The Lynx Exceeded Expectations in 2020 and are Close to Contending Once Again

(image credit: courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx on Twitter)

In July, the Minnesota Lynx left for Bradenton, Fla. to prepare for the unknown lying ahead of an unprecedented season in a bubble location at IMG Academy. On Monday, the team returned back home after spending roughly nine weeks in Florida taking part in the 2020 WNBA season that ended in defeat in the semifinal round of the playoffs on Sunday.

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After a 22-game regular season that was followed by a traditional postseason format, Minnesota ultimately fell short of its goal of fighting for a league championship, but the Lynx still have plenty to be proud of for what took place during the year.

“I love this team. I love the coach, everybody. This is my family in America,” Damiris Dantas said after Minnesota’s Game 3 loss to Seattle in the semifinals on Sunday. “This is my first team in the league. This team supports me and my family through everything. I’m sad because we lost in three games, but I’m happy for the season.”

Surpassing Expectations

Coming into the season, regardless of it was a shortened year in a bubble or not, many had expectations for Minnesota that closely matched what it accomplished in 2019 — a team that would finish around the .500 mark and in the middle of the pack in the league standings, ultimately reaching the playoffs yet again.

As the regular season progressed, this Lynx team quickly surpassed those expectations and raised some eyebrows around the WNBA while having a very young roster without much experience.

“It was everything I could’ve asked for. This team, how the season turned out,” Lynx point guard and 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield said. “How we played over stretches of time under these circumstances inside the bubble, outside the bubble. For the league to pull this off the way they did and for this team to carry itself the way it did and win games that we weren’t supposed to win. It was a joy to be here.

“This team wasn’t ready to go home yet. I wasn’t ready to go home yet.”

Minnesota ended the regular season with a record of 14-8 overall, which was good enough to claim the No. 4 seed for its 10th straight playoff appearance. The Lynx, which earned a first-round bye, advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2017 where they fell to the favored Seattle Storm in three games.

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Minnesota also fought through a lot of adversity, including the ongoing fight for racial justice, losing multiple players like Sylvia Fowles and Karima Christmas-Kelly to injuries for most of the year and also getting Odyssey Sims back about halfway through the regular season. But the Lynx relied on their strong chemistry established during the offseason to continue on in the season.

“Everybody just poured everything into it. When we were in training camp, you could feel chemistry,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said Sunday. “I said to them, I don’t know how it was going to translate to wins and losses, I just know it’s important, every team I have been around. To have that very important trait of being selfless and playing for each other and with each other. That desire, this group had it to a ‘T.’ I think we were able to translate it into wins and to be one of the top four teams here in the bubble. It was impressive.”

Even more importantly, the Lynx gained a lot of experience during the year that could accelerate their timeline from a team in rebuilding mode to one that is on the cusp of contending for a championship once again.

Getting Valuable Playoff Experience

Outside of putting together a successful regular season without multiple key pieces, Minnesota takes away the positives of once again returning the postseason and putting up a fight up until the semifinal round.

After falling in the first round of the playoffs in 2018 and 2019, the Lynx took down a tough Phoenix Mercury squad in a single-elimination game in the second round and battled a title favorite in the Storm for three games in the semifinals.

Not only will that postseason experience help players and the young team moving forward, it might even speed up the process of the Lynx trying to put together even longer playoff runs starting as soon as 2021.

“(Getting playoff experience) was the thing I was most excited about,” Reeve said. “We got our bye, got some resting time, tried to overcome the great Diana Taurasi in single elimination. I wanted them to be in a hard playoff game and figure out how to win and advance and we did that. Some of the things you wish for your team happened for us. We were in a series and I think we learned a lot.

“Does it accelerate things? I think it probably does. You have to get those experiences to get to a next step.”

Looking Forward to the Future

With the 2020 season just concluding, it’s hard for some to already look ahead to 2021, which Minnesota hopes will be able to take place as normal back home at Target Center. But with the result of this year and the expectations the Lynx surpassed, the future is bright for Minnesota and it is aiming to come back even stronger next summer.

“I think the experience that we all got, we’re going to carry that into next season and we’re going to be even better having Syl back,” Dangerfield said. “You can’t trade experience. Everyone was able to figure their way out and find out how to be comfortable. We’re going to take what we learned from this season and build on that for next season.”

Reeve mentioned the team won’t look exactly the same in 2021, especially when the Lynx get injured players back into the mix and figure out what the status of Maya Moore is leading up to the new year, among other moving parts.

Along with that, Reeve added that Minnesota has some money to spend and might be looking to free agency this offseason to continue to add to the roster moving forward.

“That’s the great thing, that we kind of escaped duct-taping this thing together and just trying to hold it up,” Reeve said. “We’ve got some really good, key pieces to keep the franchise moving forward and to keep us as a playoff team and competing as we did here in the semifinals. We got a great taste of it. I don’t know what’s next. There are so many great teams in this league and things have got to go your way. Things went our way down here in the bubble, but we certainly need more.”

The 2020 season was certainly an unusual one for Minnesota and the rest of the league. But the Lynx have a lot of positives to build upon for the future, and they took a big step in the right direction this summer down in the bubble.

“I think it just proved to us that we can be really, really good,” Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said. “We proved a lot of people wrong this year. … I can’t wait to get back to it next year.”

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