The Lynx were given a gift by the WNBA. About to be unwrapped, we’re about to see just how nice that present is.
When they resume their season Saturday at Indiana, the Lynx will be playing their first game in 10 days. After the All-Star break over last weekend, a quirk in the schedule gave the Lynx four full days of practice to prepare for a stretch run that will determine their season.
“We know who we are, we know what we have to be,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We had our ups and down in the first half of the season. We’re 20 games in. Now it’s go time.”
The Lynx (10-10) came out of the All-Star break in eighth place, the league’s last playoff spot. But going into Saturday they are only two games out of fourth place — which would ensure a first-round playoff bye — and two games out of ninth.
There is room to move. The WNBA’s top eight teams are separated by only 4½ games. The parity — due in part to some high-profile injuries — has created a feeling of opportunity. “You start playing games and you think, ‘We’re really not that far off,’ ” Reeve said. “We’ve played everybody, and we feel like we’re right there. That feeling gives you a sense that you can do something.”
But to do so the Lynx will have to get better — and more consistent — on offense. “We have to climb in offensive rating if we want to have a chance at this,” Reeve said.
The Lynx play six of their next eight games on the road, and their home games — against Connecticut and Washington — come against two of the league’s top three teams. But the Lynx are getting healthier. Damiris Dantas is full-go, her abilities as a stretch four creating much-needed spacing. Seimone Augustus appears close to playing for the first time this season.
After 20 games, the Lynx rank fourth in the league in defensive rating. And while the team has worked a bit on tweaking things on that end — focusing on details of pick-and-roll coverage and help defense — most of the work in practice this week has been on offense.
In particular, Reeve has stressed shot selection, cutting down on turnovers — where the Lynx rank last in the WNBA — and figuring out a way to get to the free-throw line, something the Lynx — second in the league in points in the paint — have done very little of lately.
Taking higher-efficiency shots has been theme all week. Too many players are taking shots they should probably turn down. Too many shots are long twos or contested shots.
“It’s identifying your offense,” Reeve said. Figuring out what this team does best on the offensive end has been a season-long process, one that has seen Reeve and her staff winnow the playbook down. “But it’s all correctable.”
Getting to the line is key as well. In their first 12 games the Lynx ranked near the top of the league averaging 24.5 free throws per game. In July that plummeted to 9.5, last in the league by a large margin.
This is an issue Reeve has talked about at length, noting her team’s focus on scoring in the paint. Center Sylvia Fowles and guard Odyssey Sims in particular have seen their free-throw opportunities plummet.
“Calls are not being made for a post player in the paint,” Reeve said. “If you’re facing up, or driving, you have more opportunity to get calls.”
The key? Fowles and Sims said being more aggressive. To Reeve, the ability to space the floor — something that will be easier with Dantas back at 100% and Augustus close to returning — should give Sims driving lanes and give Fowles more chances.
“Coach has been tweaking things this week,” Fowles said, “making sure we’re being aggressive, giving ourselves the chance to get those calls.”
Saturday’s game against the Fever will be the first opportunity to see if all the extra time and extra work will pay off.
“We know how good we can be when we’re good,” rookie Napheesa Collier said. “I think staying locked in for 40 minutes is what we need to work on.”