For the first time in three seasons, the Minnesota Lynx were able to watch the opening round of the WNBA Playoffs rather than take part in the single-elimination opening round where they have been sent home in each of the last two years.
On Tuesday, Minnesota saw two entertaining games to kick off the 2020 postseason while getting some much-needed rest and awaiting its opponent ahead of the single-elimination second round tipping off on Thursday night. In the first round, the seventh-seeded Connecticut Sun upset the sixth-seeded Chicago Sky, followed by the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury coming back to top the eighth-seeded Washington Mystics thanks to a game-winning buzzer beater from Shey Peddy.
With Connecticut and Phoenix both advancing, that means the fourth-seeded Lynx will face the rolling Mercury at 6 p.m. (CT) on Thursday, while the Sun move on to play the third-seeded Los Angeles Sparks at 8 p.m. (CT) Thursday in the second round on ESPN2. The winner of those games will advance to the best-of-5 semifinals to face either the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces or second-seeded Seattle Storm starting Sunday.
With a few extra days of rest, Minnesota will aim to avoid any sort of slow start in Thursday’s contest knowing it will have the challenge of taking on a tough Phoenix team that is riding high right now.
“Coaches worry the team that’s been resting won’t be as sharp, and the team that just played will probably be sharper. Rest is certainly good, but like anything, there’s pros and cons to it,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said on Wednesday. “If you just played in a hard game, there are pros and cons to that. The pro is you are probably vibing pretty good and the con might be you might be a little bit more banged up and more tired.
“At the end of the day, when the game starts, none of that matters. Any rust from us not playing or any fatigue, all of that goes out the window. … Is there truly an advantage for either one of us? Probably not.”
During the season, the Lynx and Mercury saw very similar results, with Minnesota ending the 22-game schedule at 14-8 overall and Phoenix finishing 13-9. The two teams split the two-game season series against each other, with the Lynx taking the first game 90-80 on Aug. 21 and the Mercury winning the second game on Aug. 30 by a score of 83-79.
Outside of that, both Minnesota and Phoenix have been playing without their star centers for a majority of the season. Lynx center Sylvia Fowles has missed a bulk of the year with a calf injury, while Mercury center Brittney Griner is no longer with the team since leaving IMG Academy in August. Fowles could return for Thursday’s game, as she is listed as questionable. Griner won’t be playing.
“They are a good team that’s really solid. They have picked up their level of play since Brittney has been out,” Lynx guard Odyssey Sims said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us (on Thursday). It’s the playoffs. Nobody wants to go home, so we’re expecting a very good Phoenix team.”
Minnesota has a relatively young roster, and it will be the first playoff experience for many players. Phoenix, on the other hand, has a more veteran-heavy squad that could use that experience as an advantage in the single-elimination matchup.
Regardless, the Lynx are ready for the challenge. Not only in Thursday’s game against the Mercury, but hopefully beyond in what is their 10th straight playoff appearance.
“It’s one of those things of who’s going to make the plays? It’s playoffs. This is an exciting time for them. Players making plays,” Reeve said. “If you’ve gotten this far, you have to be doing something right.
“It’ll be a challenge, that’s the fun of it. Nobody said this was going to be easy. Not for a second is any part of the game (on Thursday) going to be easy. That’s the fun of it.”