Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve knows there is work to be done on offense. Recent injuries — particularly to point guard Layshia Clarendon — have slowed the Lynx's attack.
Through three games of the team's four-game homestand, the Lynx have ranked 10th in the 12-team WNBA in offensive rating (90.4), last in field-goal percentage (37.3) and 11th in field goals made per game (24.0).
Yet they have won all three games.
The first against third-place Seattle, the second against New York without center Sylvia Fowles and Clarendon and with Damiris Dantas lost for the season because of a Lisfranc injury suffered early in the second half. Thursday, they beat Los Angeles without Clarendon and with Napheesa Collier, the focal point of the Sparks defense, being held to five points.
The reason? Defense.
"We've been playing good team defense for a while,'' Reeve said. "These last two efforts have been extra, extra good.''
During the three-game homestand, the Lynx are first in the league in defensive rating (80.8), opponent's field-goal percentage (34.0) and opponent's made field goals per game (23.3). Against New York and Los Angeles, the Lynx set back-to-back season bests by holding New York to 32.4% shooting and the Sparks to 31.1.
In the second half Thursday, Los Angeles shot 5-for-29 (17.2%) and scored only 16 points, including four points on 1-for-14 shooting in the fourth quarter. It was only the fourth time in Lynx history they have held a team to four or fewer points in a quarter. Los Angeles made three of its final 25 shots.
To start the fourth quarter, the Lynx got stops on nine of the Sparks' first 10 possessions.
"That's a lot of stops,'' Aerial Powers said. "That's a lot of hard work.''
Tale of the tape
It was at halftime of Tuesday's game with New York that Powers took the tape off her surgically repaired right thumb. She has played without it since.
Powers tore the ulnar collateral ligament in her right hand June 12 and had surgery. She returned to action, with her hand taped at Chicago Aug. 21, when the Lynx's current four-game winning streak started.
But that tape was bothering Powers, making it hard for her to feel the ball, both when dribbling and shooting. Ultimately, she got rid of it. "I went to the doctor and talked to him,'' Powers said.
His advice: You should probably keep the tape on, but the thumb is probably strong enough to go without.
Powers is still working on her shot. But, in the six quarters since removing the tape, she has scored 21 points and shown her value as one of the few players on the Lynx roster able to use dribble penetration to get into the paint and disrupt defenses.
She said it was the second half of Thursday's game — when she scored nine of her 13 points — was the first time she felt she was reacting and playing rather than thinking too much.
"It will come with time,'' she said. "I hadn't played in [nine] weeks. I'm just trying to give all I can to my teammates and get back into rhythm.''
Asking for more
Bridget Carleton has scored only eight points in her past two games. But they have been big.
She hit a three-pointer with 1:11 left Tuesday after New York had cut a nine-point Lynx lead to two. Thursday, in the starting lineup for Dantas, her three-pointer with 3:55 left broke a 56-56 tie and put the Lynx in the lead for good.
But Reeve wants Carleton to be more aggressive on offense and stop turning down shots.
"She only took three threes,'' Reeve said after Thursday's game. "Stand in there and take shots."