WNBA Playoff Extra: Lynx Begin Defense of the Title
To many outside of the Twin Cities, the Minnesota Lynx are entering the 2014 WNBA Playoffs with a new and rare title.
One that if you mentioned to head coach Cheryl Reeve, might prompt her to yank off and toss her stylish blazer at you with the force of a Mo’ne Davis fastball.
“We don't believe that we are the underdog,” Reeve said of her second-seeded Lynx. “We still believe that we are the team that everyone wants to beat.”
Until somebody eliminates them, the motivated and focused Minnesota Lynx would like to remind everybody they are still the reigning WNBA champions.
Despite wobbling down the stretch losing three of their last four games, the road to a WNBA championship still goes through the Target Center.
When you’ve won three straight Western Conference titles, two WNBA championships, became the first franchise in league history to win 25 games in four straight years, and have first time League MVP Maya Moore, your swag can be at an all-time high.
The defending champions begin the playoffs Thursday night against San Antonio at the Target Center in game one of a best-of-three series (9 p.m. ESPN2).
Yet, for all of their accolades and accomplishments in recent years and even this year, which featured an 11-game winning streak, there are a few questions surrounding the Lynx entering the playoffs.
Namely, the health of Seimone Augustus, who sat out last week’s 92-76 loss to the Silver Stars with knee soreness and their wobbly defense during the last week of the season.
Also, Minnesota, like the rest of league, took a backseat to Phoenix’s incredible regular season that featured a league record 29 wins.
Moore assured everybody in Lynx-nation that they will be tougher than ever to be dethroned when she answered questions during Tuesday’s conference call with national media members.
“I think for whatever reason we weren't as sharp as we needed to be to close out the games,” Moore said. “It's a good reminder of why we've been able to be successful, so it definitely is something in the forefront of our minds, the focus and the determination we need to have for 40 minutes on the defensive side of things.
" We're not worried about our offense; it's the defensive side that we know is most important at this time of year.”
While the Lynx are heavily favored against San Antonio thanks to a 4-1 season series win, they know they will have their hands full. The Stars are playing their best basketball of the season. They closed the regular season with three straight victories including double-digit triumphs over playoff-bound Minnesota and Chicago.
And there is the emotional motivation as Becky Hammon closes out a sensational career before moving on to a new pioneering role for women as the first female NBA assistant coach when she joins the defending champion San Antonio Silver Stars.
Augustus is expected to be at full strength for Minnesota, which will attempt to become the first team to advance to the WNBA Finals four straight times for the first time since the Houston Comets did it from 1998-2001.
The Lynx are also aiming to become the first team to repeat as champion since the Sparks accomplished that during the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
When asked about the team’s overall health, Moore quickly responded.
“We're fine,” she said. “It's nothing ‑‑ no team is ever 100 percent at this point in the season, and so our team is no different, but everybody is practicing, everybody is ready to go, and energy felt really good today in the gym.”
Together, Moore and Augustus were the best scoring duo in the WNBA, averaging 40.4 points of Minnesota’s 81.6 point per game total.
With Janel McCarvale, Rebekka Brunson and Lindsay Whalen functioning like a machine, the Lynx’s offense flowed beautifully for much of the season. Minnesota has also gotten valuable efforts from Monica Wright, Tan White and Devereaux Peters during the season.
Meanwhile, the Stars will look to spring an upset.
Led by fearless and talented guards Danielle Robinson and Kayla McBride along with Sixth Woman of the Year candidate Jia Perkins, San Antonio won’t be a fun first-round opponent. Robinson leads the Stars and is third in the entire WNBA in assists (5.3) and is San Antonio’s second-leading scorer (12.9), just behind McBride, the rookie wing from Notre Dame who has averaged 13.0 in her first WNBA season. Perkins chips in with 12.5 points off the bench.
“We are in a good place,” Moore said. “We had a good practice today, and I think we have enough experience and enough leadership to take those losses and learn from them and let that be added motivation to play even better for these playoffs just because San Antonio is a good team. They're somebody that’s not going to hurt themselves. They're disciplined and well coached and they're scoring bunches because of their three‑point shooters.”
With Moore virtually unstoppable, it’s never a good idea to bet against the Lynx in August and September.
“I think that their book is not finished,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. “When you've got a player like Maya Moore who has come on the scene and done what she has done this season, to go along with what Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen have brought in the past, I think it's a team that will continue to make runs.
"I think that with the unlikelihood that they're eliminated early, I think that they will be a team that we can continue to read about.”
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