For the first time since 2007, the Minnesota Lynx are 0-3 to start the season.
The Lynx have had their ups and downs against the Phoenix Mercury, New York Liberty, and Seattle Storm to begin the regular season schedule. All three games resulted in losses, but the disappointing results came in various forms.
In the season opener against Phoenix, Minnesota fell in the final seconds after Diana Taurasi hit a game-winning shot to put the Mercury up for good at Target Center. In the second game of the year, the Lynx put together a rough performance on the road against an improved Liberty squad to start 0-2 on the year — the first time a Cheryl Reeve-led team started with that mark. Last Friday, Minnesota dropped its third-straight contest after collapsing in the fourth quarter to come up short against the defending champion Storm.
With plenty of new players holding their own until the late arrival of key players such as Kayla McBride and Napheesa Collier, the 2021 campaign hasn’t started the way the Lynx envisioned. Multiple factors account for the tough start for Reeve and Co., but Minnesota feels this week off before hitting the road for a rematch against Seattle this Friday will help right the ship.
Contributions to Slow Start
The biggest storyline going into the start of the regular season was the new additions to the team and just how fast everyone would get acclimated to each other. That adjustment period, along with the late arrivals of two centerpiece players playing overseas, has certainly fed into the winless start to the year.
But there have been other factors that contributed to the Lynx’s 0-3 start, and each loss has brought up a new area of focus Minnesota must work on to improve.
In the season opener against the Mercury, the Lynx started off the game ice cold from the field and fell behind early, resulting in trying to battle back over the course of the final three quarters only to come up short. In the second game in Brooklyn, turnovers and defense were two key contributions in New York, extending its lead. In the Seattle game, the Lynx looked impressive for a little over three quarters, leading by as much as 19 at one point, only to let up in the fourth quarter and allow the Storm to come from behind to win.
“(Making progress) was very important to us in this last game (against Seattle). We obviously wanted to win the game, and we thought we were in a position to do so,” Reeve said over the weekend. “I thought we did make significant progress in places we were looking for. We’ve talked about multiple efforts on both sides, both offense and defense. … We took a step, and we thought that was important. Obviously, this week is like gold in what we could potentially do with this.”
Through three games, Minnesota has struggled shooting the ball on the offensive end of the floor, ranking eighth in the WNBA in field goal percentage (40.7%) and last in three-point percentage (23.2%) to total an offensive rating of 90.5, which ranks 11th in the league. Turnovers and overall execution throughout all four quarters of each game have also fed into those early-season struggles.
Minnesota is focused on improving defensively as well. They’re currently recording a team defensive rating of 100.8 (eighth in the WNBA). The Lynx have allowed opposing teams to shoot 44.9% from the field (10th in the WNBA) while giving up an average of 84.3 points per contest (ninth in the WNBA).
It is a small sample size of just three games, but there are various areas the Lynx are determined to shore up with a productive week off.
“We just have to make sure we are doing smart things when it comes down to crunch time,” Sylvia Fowles said of the early struggles. “I think we’ve made a good run in the right direction of becoming one as a team.”
If there are a few silver linings right now, they would be the fact that Minnesota is now getting its complete roster together while having a full week of practice between games.
Following the late arrivals of McBride and Collier from overseas, this is really the first time all season that the Lynx have been able to hold practice together to see how the players on the full roster can coexist.
“It’s really important. Even before this stretch, as I mapped out the season, I felt like you have to take advantage of any segments of time you have like this,” Reeve said. “Obviously, it’s integrating people and making decisions about our identity, what we’re going to do, and getting more comfortable at those things. It’s really important for us, and we’re going to have a mindset that we’re going to get in there and really gonna work.”
Although McBride has played in all three games for Minnesota so far this year, she joined the team right before the season opener and hasn’t really had time to practice with her new teammates outside of a few shootarounds. The same goes for Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa, who joined the team as free agents, and McBride this offseason.
Collier, who was activated over the weekend, took part in her first practice of the year on Saturday after returning multiple negative COVID tests allowing her to join the team officially.
McBride and Collier, in particular, will be key pieces in Minnesota’s rotation this year, and getting them back will help tremendously.
“I’m coming late, so they’ve had more time to be together than I’ve had to be with them,” Collier said of joining the Lynx over the weekend. “We’re just trying to make sure we’re getting better every day with this week-long break.
“Every team (in the WNBA) is really good. You see really good players getting cut every single day, so the level of play is really hard, and we have to be able to go at high levels for 40 minutes if we’re going to want to beat people.”
This week of practice will be important for the Lynx, not only to integrate pieces together for the first time on a team aiming to be title contenders but to dig themselves out of an 0-3 hole.
“We already know this week will be a week of work and making sure we go as hard as we can in the right direction to make sure we’re all on the same page,” Fowles said. “I think us taking steps in the right direction is mostly our main concern, and this week will be a good week to get that work in.
“It’s going to be hard, we’re going to have our downfalls, but it’s the bounce-back of how we approach these next couple of games that’s most important.”