No, wait. If the Lynx miss out on the 2010 WNBA play-offs, it will be because of an inability to close out games in which they've taken an early lead. That includes last night's loss to the Sparks, in which the Lynx led 23-10 after one period and 27-10 at 8:48 of the 2nd. They still led 59-53 after 3, only to get out-scored 25-18 in the 4th.
The lead was still 72-68 at 2:28 of the 4th, and ordinarily the Lynx would take their chances with a late 4 point lead and the ball in Lindsay Whalen's hands. But Whalen made 2 good plays and 2 bad down the stretch, and it wasn't enough, as the lead changed hands 5 times inside of 2 minutes.
First, Lindsay turned the ball over at 1:57, and 40 seconds later the Sparks took their first lead since 5-4 on a 3 by DeLisha Milton-Jones, who led the Sparks with 21 points. Whalen responded with a 2 at exactly 1:00 for a 75-74 Lynx lead. Minnesota got the ball back on a Charde Houston rebound, but Lindsay missed two FT attempts at 0:23, enabling L.A. to take the lead back at 0:04.3 on a Tina Thompson jumper. This time, Whalen responded by making to FT, making in 77-76 Minnesota at 0:01.1, for what looked like a Lynx win.
But the Sparks somehow got the ball all the way down to the Lynx baseline where Thompson hit another jumper with 0:00.0 on the clock.
While Whalen was turning the ball over and missing a pair of FT, the Sparks' point guard Tina Penichiero, was making a conventional 3 point play off a driving lay-up and notching 3 assists. Meanwhile the Lynx' leading scorer, Seimone Augustus, suffered through a 3-for-10 shooting night, scoring just 6 points. Houston came off the bench to lead the way with 24 points.
Up and Down
• The Lynx started out 2-11, playing much of the 1st month without stars Augustus, Rebekah Brunson and Candice Wiggins.
• Just when hope seemed lost, the Lynx won 5 of 7 to get back into the play-off picture.
• Misfortune struck again when Wiggins blew out her achilles tendon, and the Lynx lost 5 in a row, 4 of them at home. OK, now hope really was gone....
• But, no. A shocking 72-71 win over the league's best team, the Seattle Storm (now 25-4), was followed by 2 more wins, including a 111-103 thriller over Connecticut that we covered here at Minnesota Hoops. Of course, the Lynx blew a 51-21 lead before pulling away in OT in that game.
• In their last 4 games, the Lynx won at Chicago (in OT after blowing a 16 point half-time lead), lost to New York at home, won at San Antonio, then blew a 17 point lead in last night's home loss to the Sparks.
So, now, with just 5 games remaining, predicting how the Lynx will finish is a fool's errand. Right now the race for the final 2 play-off spots in the West looks like this:
San Antonio 11-18
Los Angeles 11-19
The schedule does not seem to favor the Lynx, except that they've played better recently on the road than at the Target Center.
Minnesota: 1 home, 4 away, including San Antone at home and at L.A.
San Antonio: 4 at home and 1 on the road, including at Minnesota
Los Angeles: 2 home, 2 away, including Minnesota at home
If the home team wins the rest of the way, the final would look like this:
San Antonio 15-19
Los Angeles 13-21
It looks like it will come down to the Lynx' final home game against San Antone on Sunday, August 15 at 6 p.m.; and the game at L.A. on Friday, August 20. The Lynx have split against the Silver Stars, both at home and one the road, while they're winless against the Sparks in 3 tries. They may need to win both of these games to advance to the WNBA playoffs. A loss to San Antone would be especially harmful because the Lynx would lose the tie-breaker to the Silver Stars in that event as well.
The Final Analysis
If the Lynx miss out on the 2010 WNBA play-offs, it will be because they've lost 6 of their last 8 games at home, including last night's heart-breaker, 78-77 to the L.A. Sparks.
No, wait. If the Lynx miss out on the 2010 WNBA play-offs, it will be because of an inability to close out games in which they've taken an early lead.
No, that's not it either. If the Lynx miss out on the 2010 WNBA play-offs, it will be because of the injury and absence of key players. And if the Lynx miss out on the 2010 WNBA play-offs, Minnesota fans may be counting their blessings in a month or two. With the Suns seemingly out of the play-off picture in the East, the Lynx would then own 2 of 4 tickets to the draft lottery--aka the Maya Moore sweepstakes.
The fact is that if Augustus and Brunson and Whalen and Wiggins are all healthy and available, this is a WNBA championship contender. I know you wouldn't think it to have looked at them last night. But if the Lynx could add Moore, regarded by many as the top prospect of the past decade, to that nucleus, then 2011 might be the year that long-suffering Lynx fans have been waiting for.
And if the Lynx sneak into the 2010 play-offs, a quick exit against Seattle is likely. Worse yet, it's probably good-bye Maya Moore. The lesson in all of this would seem to be: be careful what you hope for.