Monday, June 6, 2011

Lynx Open 2011 Season

Timberwolf nation is cautiously optimistic over the signing of Ricky Rubio and having the highest draft choice (#2) in the franchise's star-crossed history with the NBA draft lottery.

But that ain't nothin.' Lynx Nation is positively giddy. Hey, they're 1-and-1! They've demonstrated that they're still at parity with the L.A. Sparks who, like the Lynx, won 13 games and lost 21 a year ago. Of course, these are also the Sparks who had beaten the Lynx 8 straight times including the season-opener Friday night at L.A., and who aced the Lynx out of the 8th and final WNBA playoff spot a year ago on a last second shot by Tina Thompson.

More to the point, of course, the Sparks--also like the Lynx--have vastly higher hopes for 2011 with the return of former WNBA MVP Candace Parker, who missed 2/3 of last season due to a separated shoulder suffered against, you guessed it, the Lynx. The Lynx also have significantly higher hopes because of a truly "new" player, already pretty much conceded the Rookie of the Year award and generally expected to be the best woman player on the planet in 5 years. That would be Maya Moore. Maybe you've heard about her.

And let's admit that the Lynx put on a pretty good show for the home folks in Moore's home regular season debut--much of it by players not named Moore, by the way. Moore had 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in Friday's loss versus 16 points, 3 boards and 1 assist in Sunday's win. But no matter. After spending much of the 1st half on the bench with too many fouls, Moore recorded a steal and assist, and 2 3s in the opening minutes of the 2nd half and suddenly a 46-40 half-time lead was 54-42. The Lynx pushed out to a 23 point lead and the Sparks never again got within 10.

But it was Seimone Augustus who put the Wolves over the top with 15 1st half points. Even so, things looked pretty shaky after 6 quarters of ball. The Lynx had lost on Friday in the same dispiriting way they had lost too often in 2010--taking an early lead, then watching it rapidly disappear. In this case, it was 43-37 Lynx at the half, but the Sparks came out and hit 5 3s in the 3rd period, 3 by former Lynx Noelle Quinn. Overall L.A. outscored the hapless Lynx 45-29 in the 2nd half.

Then on Sunday the Lynx had pain-stakingly built a 46-34 lead inside of 1 minute when--bang! and bang! again--the Sparks hit a pair of 3s to get within 46-40. It was a familiar feeling and not a good one.

But that was when the new gun in town went off and the Lynx cruised from there.

Still, they have not exceeded expectations by one single iota, nor even met the expectations of many. They're 1-and-1. They've not shown the ability to win on the road, another bugaboo of last year and, well, pretty much every year of Lynx history. And the ability to win on the road will perhaps not be fairly tested in 2 of the next 4 opportunities, coming as they do at the best team in the WNBA, the Seattle Storm. Meanwhile, a 3rd road game is at the worst team in the WNBA, the Tulsa Shock. So the next real chance to test the Lynx road prowess is perhaps Sunday, June 19 at Atlanta. June home games against Atlanta and Indiana should end up in the W column. Let's just say that anything less than a 6-3 record as of July 1 will be a disappointment, and only a win at Seattle will demonstrate that the Lynx are ready to contend for a WNBA title.

Of course, the truth of the 2011 Lynx will be known by September, and I guess after a dozen years, we can wait. But, no, we want a sign and we want it now, that pro basketball in Minnesota can be a success. And so far, the Lynx have out-rebounded their opponent over the 2 games, they've won the possession game (fewer turnovers, more offensive boards) across the 2 games. But still, the team with the better shooting percentage has won each game, and the Lynx perimeter defense, as expected, has not looked good.

The other question mark has been Coach Reeve, but it was nice to see her adjust. In L.A. her starters played 151 minutes and other than Candace Wiggins, it was Alexis Hornbuckle and Charde Houston who got the most minutes with 10 and 9, and the bench contributed 18 points and was a cumulative -33. At the Target Center, Wiggins again led the bench with 19 minutes but it was Monika Wright and Amber Harris who got the next most minutes with 19 and 18, and they each (Wright and Harris) contributed 11 points and the bench was a cumulative +8. And with Harris getting more than triple the minutes, the Lynx turned a -8 rebounding margin into a +16 domination. If anybody can give Maya Moore a run for that Rookie of the Year award, it just might be #4 pick Amber Harris, if Reeve keeps giving her the minutes.

Still, it says here that the Lynx will be something like 10-7 at the end of July, but more like 19-11 by the end of August and 21-13 at the end of the regular season, an exact reversal of last year's 13-21. That should be good enough for 2nd in the west and one playoff win. But then comes Seattle and an end to the 2011 season. But the Lynx are the youngest team in the WNBA and if they hit these two milestones (2nd in the west and a playoff series win) it will bode better things ahead.

But the improvement will take time. Seattle will continue to punish the young Lynx, and L.A. will continue to be the measuring stick.

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