With an eight-game winning streak and a roster getting healthier and deeper, the Lynx will begin a week's worth of games Tuesday in Connecticut that could have a huge impact on potential playoff position.
Sunday's 88-78 victory over New York at Target Center was the eighth in a row for Minnesota (13-7), which pulled the Lynx within a half-game of Connecticut and two games behind co-leaders Las Vegas and Seattle in the WNBA standings. The Lynx are also 2½ games ahead of fifth-place Chicago.
The top two teams in the standings gain byes into the league semifinals. The third- and fourth-place teams get a first-round bye while teams finishing fifth through eighth have to play in a first-round game.
Now the Lynx have a stretch in which they will play at Connecticut Tuesday and Thursday, at Chicago on Saturday and play host to Seattle on Aug. 24.
"Connecticut is a team we're chasing,'' coach Cheryl Reeve said. "And we're not out of the hunt for one of the top two spots. These games are going to be really heightened. It's almost like the playoffs have started. It's a sprint to the finish.''
It starts with two games against a Sun team that has a league-best 8-1 home record. A split in these two games would give the Lynx – who beat Connecticut in overtime at Target Center for their first victory of the season – the season series against the Sun, something they've already secured against Phoenix, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Dallas. That could be a crucial tiebreaker.
Reeve said she is happy with the way her starters have played during the eight-game winning streak. Now, with center Natalie Achonwa back – she returned from a knee injury Sunday – and Aerial Powers' return not far off – Reeve is working on rotations with the idea of getting more production from the bench.
Sunday that meant Achonwa getting minutes ahead of Jessica Shepard, and Achonwa responded by scoring six of her season-high eight points in the fourth quarter.
"Practice is a place where you can see it,'' Reeve said. "If you don't practice, then shootarounds. You get a feel for the team. You have your core group, that you don't want to deviate much from.''
Minutes for Achonwa and Shepard will likely depend on who is playing well and what the matchups are. In the backcourt, Reeve is working on creating situations where Crystal Dangerfield, who backs up Layshia Clarendon at the point, can focus more on scoring than in playmaking.
"The next layer of this is how we get our second team more productive,'' Reeve said. "And that's where Crystal is at her best.''
Powers' return would force other changes in rotation. She had surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in her right (shooting) hand July 18, and is 8½ weeks into an expected recovery time of eight to 10 weeks. Her return would give Reeve another scoring option, and the ability to play both big and small depending on the opponent.
Note: X-rays on center Sylvia Fowles' left hand confirmed that she dislocated the index finger in Sunday's game, but showed no further damage. Fowles did not miss any playing time Sunday because of the injury.