The 2020 WNBA season might be shorter than a typical year, but that doesn’t mean it has necessarily been any easier for the Minnesota Lynx. Originally, the regular season schedule was supposed to consist of 36 games this summer — up two from the past few seasons — followed by a traditional playoff format.
As we have seen throughout the entire sports landscape, plans have shifted in order for the WNBA to be able to still get a season in amid the coronavirus pandemic around the globe. The WNBA kicked off an unusual 22-game regular season held exclusively at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., tipping off in late July while wrapping things up in the middle of September followed by a normal postseason schedule.
Coming into the season, the fact that the year would be shorter and teams wouldn’t have to travel from different cities while playing in the bubble might have initially been viewed as an advantage for the 12 teams in the league.
For the Lynx, that hasn’t really been the case. In fact, the condensed schedule has been tougher to maneuver than perhaps they thought.
“In terms of what these players are going to be put through, I think we’re concerned that it’s not sustainable physically. That’s one of the biggest takeaways I’ve had,” Lynx head coach and general manger Cheryl Reeve said recently. “I think the (WNBA Players’ Association) thought ‘hey, we’re not practice and we’re just hooping. Let’s go do it.’ … These games, it’s a lot. It’s intense. I could see doing it for a couple of weeks, but this is a long jaunt of 22 games in seven weeks.”
To open up the regular season, Minnesota had four games within the first week of action, playing games every other day in that seven-day span. Following Tuesday’s game against the Washington Mystics, the Lynx have played eight games in 17 days, having more than one day of rest between games just once so far.
That busy schedule won’t let up anytime soon, either. To round out the rest of August starting with Thursday’s matchup against the Las Vegas Aces, Minnesota will have eight more games in the final 19 days of the month. That span includes more than one day of rest between games just twice.
“We can’t keep doing what we just did. It’s just not possible,” Reeve said of the first few weeks of the year. “I don’t know what this thing is going to look like once we get halfway, two-thirds of the way or three-fourths. I don’t know what it’s going to look like. It’s concerning.”
Through eight games of the regular season, the Lynx haven’t been impacted too much in terms of their performance on the floor, managing to open the year by sitting near the top of the WNBA standings.
When it comes to player health, on the other hand, Minnesota and the rest of the league has already dealt with early-season injuries to a few different players.
“The games coming very quickly throughout the week, which is the hardest part,” Lynx center Sylvia Fowles said. “Making sure you listen to your body, but at the same time, making sure you push yourself I think is the hardest thing we’ve been dealing with so far.”
Fowles has been one of a few Lynx players who have dealt with early injury issues, already having missed a few games with a sore calf. Outside of Fowles, Lexie Brown has dealt with a minor concussion, Shenise Johnson has missed a handful of games with a hamstring injury and Karima Christmas-Kelly was lost for the season two games in with a ruptured Achilles.
“I would say it’s different because we’re playing every other day,” rookie guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “I would say the four games in 10 days is nothing on this. The games are tougher, they’re down to the wire and it’s more aggressive. I think it’s different in that aspect. We’ve done a great job of managing minutes and coming into practice taking care of what we need to and not being on our feet too long.”
The busy schedule has no doubt played a role in player health and their ability to perform at the highest level day after day, resulting in some teams resting players to preserve them for a hopeful playoff run starting in September. The Lynx haven’t gotten to that point just yet, although they are cautiously monitoring the status of players daily.
“We’ll take it week by week and see where we’re at,” Reeve said on potentially resting players. “If we can manage it through minutes, that’s the preference. If it gets to a place where we’re not having success with that, then you might see (players resting).”
Reeve and the rest of the team have also tried to deal with the mental grind of a packed season, with the head coach and general manger saying recently she has personally had to get herself focus on something else to make sure she’s not working 24/7.
The condensed season and game-heavy schedule has already played a toll on the Lynx and the rest of the league. As the unusual year continues to progress, it will certainly be an ongoing situation to keep an eye on and might continue to become a growing concern among all 12 teams.
“We don’t have as much time (to prepare for opponents),” Reeve said. “We have a grand total of three times where we have more than a day (off). When you’re playing something like six games in 11 days, you just can’t do a whole lot in between.”