Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lynx Do What They Have to Do

So far, so good. The Lynx have done what they had to do in order to set the stage for the 2010 home opener. They've given local basketball fans a chance to get excited about the WNBA. They brought Lindsay Whalen back home, they've assembled the most talented roster in their history, and they're riding a 1-game winning streak into today's home opener. So far, so good.

The Lynx used 3 runs to beat the lightly-regarded Tulsa Shock last night, getting out of the gate faster than Lookin' for Lucky for an early 21-7 lead. The Shock, er, shocked the Lynx by roaring back from a 34-18 2nd quarter deficit to an early 3rd quarter lead at 39-38, but the Lynx responded with a quick 9-2 run. The Shock never got within 3 again, and a 15-6 Lynx run across the 3rd and 4th quarter break pretty much iced it.

Rookie Monica Wright scored 8 of those 1st 21 Lynx points, as the Shock had difficulty maintaining control of the basketball. The Lynx had 6 steals, 2 by Nicky Anosike, in the 1st 20 possessions for each side. Then Charde Houston took over, scoring 5 of 9 and 10 of 15 points in the Lynx' 2 2nd half runs. She made 6-of-7 shots, including 2-for-2 beyond the arc, at crunch time.

Three Stars: 1. Houston, 2. Anosike, 3. Whalen

Still, let's be honest. This is not a very good Lynx team yet. Of course, there aren't many basketball teams that are really good with 3 of their starters MIA. Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins are recovering from injuries and/or surgery, while Rebekah Brunson is still finishing her European season. Only Whalen and either Anosike or Houston among last night's and today's probable starting lineup still figure to be among the 1st 5 when the roster is back at full strength.

And there are some obvious bright spots such as Houston. We do not have a problem. She was the best player on the floor last night, the reason the Lynx were able to get that 1st victory, leading all scorers with 21 on 8-of-18 shooting but 6-of-7 when it really mattered. Then, of course, there's Lindsay. The Shock and coach Nolan Richardson promised that the Shock defense would be "40 minutes of hell" for opponents. And, granted, the turnovers ended up about even, 20 for the Lynx and 22 for the Shock, with the steals 14 on a side. But when your whole game plan is predicated on winning the possession game, you've (the Shock) got to do better than that. Lindsay and the Lynx at least neutralized what the Shock was trying to do.

And Rashanda McCants continued her pre-season impression of a totally different player than the one you saw last year, as she hit 6-of-9 shots for 15 points.

You could almost miss the contributions, then, of Anosike, who made just 1-of-3 shots for 5 points but contributed team highs in rebounds (9), blocks (5), steals (4) and plus/minus (+13); and of Hamchetou Maiga-Ba, who added 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

Wright got off to the hot start but, otherwise, played like a rookie, shooting 6-for-18 with 7 turnovers. She and back-up point guard Nuria Martinez were the only Lynx who finished with a minus on the plus/minus--Wright at -6 and Martinez -3 in very limited minutes. Other than McCants, the bench added just 1 more point. Martinez, in particular, looked completely over-matched, so Whalen had better be in shape to play a lot of minutes.

The bottom line was, the Lynx just out-shot the Shock. Otherwise the stats are all remarkably even, with the possessions going 81-81--the Shock had 3 more offensive boards and 2 more turnovers. And, actually, the 3 point shooting was a wash, too. The Lynx hit 5-of-16, the Shock 5-of-14. But from inside the arc the Lynx made 25-of-56 shots (45 percent) and the Shock just 20-of-52 (38 percent). And the Shock totally squandered their chances at the FT line, making 19-of-30 (63 percent) while the Lynx drained 15-of-17 (88 percent).

The Mystics are going to be a completely different kind of opponent that what the Lynx faced last night with Monique Currie, former Lynx Lindsay Harding and Crystal Langhorne, among others. And they too are off to a good start, avenging last year's play-off loss to the Indiana Fever last night at Indiana 72-65 as Currie and Langhorne combined for 40 points and 15 boards. They, too, have injury issues, however, as last year's leading scorer Alana Beard (16 ppg) is recovering from surgery on her Achilles tendon.

In short, tonight's home opener will be a stiff test for the 2010 Lynx, V. 1.0. A victory by any margin will be an impressive one as the Lynx try to survive until V. 2.0, with Augustus, Brunson and Wiggins, arrives on the scene.

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