That Wednesday's contest in Phoenix will likely have all the intensity of a playoff game won't be anything new for the Lynx.
They've been feeling that way for a while.
After a 3-13 start put them in a deep hole in mid-June, the Lynx have been working to get to the point where clinching a playoff spot — which would be the team's WNBA-best 12th in a row — would be something they could control.
That time has arrived.
"We've needed some help," coach Cheryl Reeve said. "But that help is pointless unless you do what you need to do."
Since that 3-13 start, the Lynx have gone 10-7. Not earth-shattering, but enough that now the Lynx's ability to win one of the final two playoff spots still available is likely in their hands.
Heading into tonight's WNBA action, the Lynx and New York are tied for ninth place in the league, one game behind seventh-place Phoenix and a half-game behind Atlanta. Los Angeles trails the Lynx and Liberty by a half-game.
- WNBA standings
The Lynx have the season-series edge — the first tiebreaker — over all of the above-mentioned teams. That means if the Lynx win at Phoenix on Wednesday, they will lead Arizona in playoff position with two games to play. Those games aren't easy: Minnesota plays host to Seattle (20-13) on Friday in the final home game, then plays at Connecticut (22-11) on Sunday. But the Lynx' fate lies in their own hands.
And then there is the news that the Mercury's star guard, Diana Taurasi, is done for the season because of a quadriceps strain.
Still, the stakes for the Mercury and the Lynx suggest Wednesday's game could be rather intense.
"We've been in that space for a while," Reeve said. "Certainly, at least, since the All-Star break. We circled the team a week ago. Do we have a chance? The path is to win."
The Lynx got a boost Sunday with forward Napheesa Collier's 2022 debut, which came 10½ weeks after giving birth to daughter Mila. Reeve said Collier came out of the game, an 81-71 victory over Atlanta, feeling good and participated in a hard, full-go practice Tuesday.
But injuries could be catching up to the team. Collier's debut was moved up because of Aerial Powers' knee injury, which kept her out of Sunday's game. Powers practiced Tuesday before the team boarded a plane for Phoenix, but the knee is still bothering her and could force her to miss another game.
Also, backup guard Rachel Banham hurt her knee Sunday when she slipped on a wet spot on the floor. Banham has been a big boost off the bench, scoring in double figures in eight of 13 games since the start of July, hitting 33 of 68 threes in that time (48.5%). Banham also practiced Tuesday, but was bothered by the knee.
The Mercury will be shorthanded, too. But Phoenix won its last game — 76-62 over New York on Saturday — without Taurasi and fellow guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who was out because of illness. The Mercury won with Diamond DeShields (25 points) and Shey Peddy (20) leading the way.