Over two months after the 2020 WNBA season was supposed to begin in May, the Minnesota Lynx and the rest of the league are officially returning to the court this weekend.
With the WNBA tipping off on Saturday with a triple-header slate of games aired on ABC, ESPN and CBS Sports Network, the Lynx will begin their season on Sunday in the first game of a trip-header also airing on national television throughout the day.
Minnesota kicks off a 22-game regular season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. against the Connecticut Sun at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN. That game will be followed by two more contests at 2 p.m. CT on ABC and 4 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network.
Leading up to the regular season opener this weekend, the Lynx have had a few weeks of training camp in Florida while more recently getting some real-game action with scrimmages against the Las Vegas Aces, Washington Mystics and Dallas Wings throughout the week.
That has allowed Minnesota the ability to try and get as ready as it can for the upcoming year to come at a quicker pace than usual.
“I think all of us that are scrimmaging are really concerned about opening weekend and concerned about the product,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said after practice this week. “We’ve at least been able to go up and down and challenge ourselves, but it’s not enough time. What we’re doing is not enough time for them to be in great shape.
“It’s time to go. We have a game not too far from now and the level of accountability had to go up.”
Ready or not, basketball is finally back at long last. And the Lynx are ready to hit the ground running.
HISTORY ON THE HORIZON
Although the 2020 season will be like none other we’ve seen before, including 14 less games and a more condensed season timeline than originally planned, Minnesota still has some history to be made during the upcoming year.
By the end of the year, the Lynx will aim to make another return at the postseason, which would mark a 10th straight year the organization has played beyond the regular season. If Minnesota was able to accomplish that, it would become the third team in league history to make it to the playoffs 10 or more years in a row.
Two teams in WNBA history have managed to make the playoffs 10 straight years in the past. The Indiana Fever reached the postseason 12 straight times from 2005-16, while the Seattle Storm did the same in 10 straight seasons from 2004-13.
Outside of team milestones and benchmarks, there are some individual milestones to keep an eye on as well for Lynx players and coaches.
Sylvia Fowles comes into the season with 3,332 career rebounds, which is second on the WNBA’s all-time list behind only former Lynx great Rebekkah Brunson with 3,356. Fowles will undoubtedly surpass that milestone early on in the year, becoming the new all-time leader in career boards.
Karima Christmas-Kelly also needs just 90 points to reach the 2,000-career point mark and 98 rebounds to surpass 1,000 career rebounds.
For Reeve, she also has some key milestones on the horizon of what has already been a Hall of Fame coaching career. Reeve heads into the year with 231 regular season wins and 340 games coached, meaning she is 19 wins away from becoming the fifth head coach in WNBA history to surpass 250 victories and is 10 games away from becoming the seventh coach in history to coach in 350 contests.
Although the Lynx players and coaches will tell you accolades and milestones mean nothing to them, there are some notable benchmarks to watch for during the 2020 season.
NEW FACES FILL THE TEAM
Just a few short years ago, Minnesota had a team and a roster that was fairly similar year after year, headlined by the dynamic starting five of Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Brunson and Fowles.
With Whalen and Brunson now retired, Moore taking another season off and Augustus leaving the Lynx to join the Los Angeles Sparks this offserason, the core group and the roster as a whole has seen some new faces fill the team over the last year-plus.
That will be the case once again in 2020, with six of the 12 players on the current roster playing their first seasons in Minnesota.
Lexie Brown, Bridget Carleton, Christmas-Kelly, Napheesa Collier, Damiris Dantas and Fowles are the returning players who suited up for the Lynx in 2019. Kayla Alexander, Rachel Banham, Megan Huff, Shenise Johnson and rookies Crystal Dangerfield and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan will be among the newcomers with Minnesota during the shortened season in Florida.
With an unusual offseason and an excelled timeline to get things rolling for the upcoming year, the Lynx are hoping to adjust and get acclimated to each other quickly during the season.
“It’s about them understanding what they bring to the team. Don’t try and step outside of your comfort zone to do anything that’s not asked of you,” Fowles said of the new faces on the team. “Be yourself and just come willing to work. I think minutes are going to pan out. We are a new team and this whole thing looks different, so whoever Cheryl can trust is going to be out there on the floor on any given day.”
Along with the fact that there are some new players on the squad, the coaching staff also looks a bit different after the departures of assistants Walt Hopkins and Shelley Patterson, who both left to take over coaching duties with the New York Liberty this offseason.
Even though the year hasn’t officially kicked off, the Lynx are already seeing the benefits of those additions to the bench.
“I feel like we haven’t missed a beat. I feel like Plenette and (Brunson) are still players because they bring so much to the table,” Fowles said. “Having Katie (Smith) here is definitely going to be a game-changer for us because I think she’s the one who keeps Cheryl in line. Plenette is very player oriented. She wants to know how we are doing running plays, do we know how to run plays or do we need anything. Rebekkah is that coach that is making sure you’re out there getting it right.
“I think it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to seeing all of them together on the sideline. So far, it’s been pretty good.”
The presence of Reeve’s new coaching staff has already been valuable during training camp and has helped with the unusual offseason leading into the 2020 campaign. And the Lynx hope that allows them to hit the ground running when the ball finally tips off this weekend.
“I just think about what a tremendous decision it was to hire each of the people that we have in the positions that we have them in. They are incredibly valuable in preparing teams, because they have done it and they’ve done it at a high level,” Reeve said. “I’ve learned a lot in being around them. If you see those three working, they are very, very involved and they are very vocal. … That has gone extremely well.”