For the first time since the 2017 season, the Minnesota Lynx will be playing beyond the first round of the WNBA Playoffs.
On Saturday, the Lynx wrapped up the 22-game regular season schedule with a record of 14-8, good enough to surpass many expectations going into the year and claim the No. 4 seed in the postseason starting this week.
Minnesota will receive a bye in the first round, and will automatically advance to the single-elimination second round. They have lost in the first round in each of the last two seasons.
“That is something to celebrate. It’s hard to do,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said Saturday about claiming the No. 4 seed. “We will have a chance to have a team dinner and some time together where we’ll celebrate. … We are thrilled with our team in terms of the position we’ve put ourselves in. We worked really, really hard to put ourselves in this situation.”
Although their opponent is still to be determined, the first round of the playoffs set to take place on Tuesday, Minnesota will open up postseason action at 6 p.m. (CT) Thursday on ESPN2. It will face the highest remaining seed that ends up coming out of the first round.
“Playing single-elimination games are hard, especially the first round. You just can’t afford to have an off game,” Lynx guard Odyssey Sims said. “For us to have a bye, it’s really big for us. … We have a couple of days to practice and prepare to get ready for the second round.”
Rest and Preparation for the Playoffs
Throughout the course of the seven-week, 22-game regular season schedule, Minnesota and the 11 other teams played nearly every other day on a weekly basis. From the end of July until mid-September, the Lynx rarely had more than one day of rest consecutively. That resulted in the team practicing, resting and preparing less than they would in a normal season.
“This time, with us having some days off as well as some practice time, is the best thing we can have for our team,” Reeve said. “Obviously, our team needs rest. We have a few players that are just gassed right now. Those two days that we are going to get (before the playoffs begin), I can’t express how meaningful that is.”
Now with the regular season over with and Minnesota getting a first-round bye, it will get four straight days of rest before Thursday’s second-round contests. That will allow the Lynx to not only recover ahead of the playoffs, but to get some much-needed practice and preparation time to hopefully make a deep run in the postseason.
“You definitely have a lot of time to prepare and get rest,” Sims said. “With us having a hectic season playing every other day, there have been a lot of injuries in the bubble and people trying to recover their bodies. For us to have some rest days alongside practice is going to be good.”
A Chance to Get Fully Healthy
Not only will the days between Minnesota’s regular season finale on Saturday and Thursday’s playoff game provide it with much-needed rest and rare practice time, but the Lynx will get a chance to finally get back to full strength at just the right time.
For a majority of the year, Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles has missed time due to a calf strain suffered in the middle of August. With the extra days of rest and continued progress being made by Fowles, the Lynx are hopeful she can return for the postseason.
During the last week of the regular season, Reeve said it would be unlikely that Fowles would be ready to play if Minnesota dropped to the No. 5 seed, and therefore ended up playing in the first round on Tuesday. With the Lynx getting the fourth seed and a few extra days before they play, that increases the chances of the veteran center returning to the floor and the starting lineup on Thursday.
“She’s worked really hard and we’re trying. (Getting a first-round bye) better positions us to be able to do that,” Reeve said of potentially getting Fowles back. “Chuck (Barta, Lynx head athletic trainer) will let us know where she’s at and what we can do. … We’re really hopeful.”
When Fowles was in the lineup this season, Minnesota was a solid defensive team, and the center provided an All-Star and MVP talent in the paint on offense. Although the Lynx had been able to get by without Fowles for a majority of the regular season, her absence was noticeable on both ends of the floor and incorporating her back into the mix would be a key addition.
“Syl is such a force on offense and defense. It was great having her voice still with us on the bench,” Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said. “We went out there and tried to win as much as we could for her and especially keep this fourth seed for her.”
Getting Fowles back would be huge for Minnesota now moving beyond the regular season and into the playoffs this week. And with receiving a first-round bye, it increases the chance of that happening while also giving the Lynx some much-needed rest, practice time and preparation before postseason basketball tips off.
“The whole season is really competitive and you never know who is going to win. But in the playoffs, it’s even more intense,” guard Rachel Banham said. “Anyone can win, no matter what your ranking is. It’s going to be really fun and competitive.”