Should we worry about the Minnesota Lynx?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN AUGUST 03 2019: Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier (24) battles for the rebound with Indiana Fever center Teaira McCowan (15) during the game between the Minnesota Lynx and Indiana Fever Aug. 03, 2019, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN AUGUST 03 2019: Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier (24) battles for the rebound with Indiana Fever center Teaira McCowan (15) during the game between the Minnesota Lynx and Indiana Fever Aug. 03, 2019, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

It’s so difficult for a WNBA team to relax with a lead. Games can easily be swung in the span of a few minutes as a team goes on a quick run to cut a deficit or even take the lead. That’s what happened to the Minnesota Lynx in Indiana on Saturday night.

The Fever rallied back from a franchise-record 20-point deficit in the second quarter to outscore the Lynx 65-34 the rest of the way, including holding Minnesota to just 27 points in the second half. For comparison, the Lynx had 25 points in the second quarter alone.

In the first half, the Lynx’s defense was stout, trapping and closing out well on shooters. Offensively, the Lynx shot 60 percent in the first half and carried a 48-38 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Whatever team emerged from the locker room after halftime did not look like the team we saw in the first half. The Lynx turned the ball over 15 times in the second half alone, which wouldn’t be a great amount over the course of a full game. Shooting just 35.7 percent from the field in the second half and allowing the Fever’s bench alone to score 55 points in the game caused the game to slip away from Minnesota.

The loss dropped the Lynx to 10-11 on the season and 4-6 on the road. Despite remaining in sole possession of the eighth seed, their lead is just 1.5 games over the Liberty. It’s not just the loss but the way in which the Lynx lost that raises concerns for this team as they head down the home stretch of the season.

Are they deep enough?

It’s not the team’s fault that they’ve had such terrible injury luck this season Cecilia Zandalasini, Jessica Shepard and Karima Christmas-Kelly will not play another game for the Lynx this season. Seimone Augustus should return to action any day now but still hasn’t played a minute this season and will likely need time to ramp up. And Maya Moore isn’t walking through that door.

Cheryl Reeve played eight players on Saturday night and nine if you count Jillian Alleyne‘s 1:32 of playing time. Temi Fagbenle gave the team a great performance off the bench but doesn’t matter as much when the rest of the bench scores eight points. Meanwhile, the Fever played 10-deep and had four of their five reserves in double figures, including 20 points from Kelsey Mitchell.

There is no easy answer to this question if there is one at all. Reeve can’t play her starters 35 minutes every night, so they need Seimone Augustus to return and be a reliable creator. The Lynx need more than three points on 1-for-3 from Lexie Brown in 23 minutes because they’re probably not getting 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting every night from Fagbenle.

Stephanie Talbot‘s five rebounds and five assists off the bench were valuable, but her 2-for-6 shooting was tough on a night when Odyssey Sims, Damiris Dantas, and Danielle Robinson combine to shoot 8-for-23. Poor shooting nights are a part of the game, but the Lynx have a hard time overcoming so many players having them on the same night.

The other problem the lack of depth creates is that players just get tired. An eight-player rotation in August is usually not a good sign. When the Fever came out setting screens in the second half on Saturday, the Lynx had a hard time fighting through them. This led to much easier shots than the Fever saw in the first 20 minutes and the Lynx generally had a harder time closing out on shooters.

Minnesota’s second-half fatigue seemed to show in their shooting, too. After such an efficient start to the game, the Lynx converted just 1-of-6 3-point attempts. Maybe that was strategic or a result of the Fever’s defense, but poor 3-point shooting and low volume are sometimes indicative of tired legs.

Are the Lynx good enough on the road? 

Unless you’re a darn good home team, it’s hard to climb up the standings without being a good road team. Now, the Connecticut Sun are 11-1 at home, which makes their 4-5 road record almost irrelevant, especially if they lock up home-court throughout the playoffs.

Similarly, the Lynx are 4-6 on the road but just 6-5 at home. They could get away with a loss like Saturday’s if their home record more closely resembled Connecticut’s. Saturday’s loss may not have been their worst road loss this season. Atlanta has the worst record in the league this season, but the Lynx lost in Atlanta 60-53 while shooting 35 percent from the field. Other road losses like in New York are also potentially damning.

Where do the Lynx go wrong away from Target Center? It’s hard to say. Here are a few observations:

  • The Lynx are ninth in road offensive rating but third in effective field goal percentage.
  • The Lynx lead all road teams in turnover percentage at 21.7 percent, which is 1.4 percent more than second-place Dallas.
  • Rebounding and ball movement is also not a problem as they are among the best road teams in both categories.
  • The Lynx are sixth in road net rating, which isn’t surprising for a team that is two games below .500 on the road.

Really, the Lynx aren’t an awful road team but they haven’t played well enough at home to lose road games to teams like the Dream. Having lost potentially pivotal games on the road to the Liberty and Fever puts the Lynx in a tougher spot because those two teams are within three games of them in the standings.

We’ll learn a lot over the next month

The Lynx have now lost four of their last five games with a real chance to break that streak on Tuesday against the Dream. They’ll play the Dream in Atlanta and will need the momentum as they head into what is likely the toughest part of their schedule. The next 10 games after that include:

  • Three of their next four games against the Mystics and Sun, two of the best teams in the WNBA.
  • In New York for a game against the Liberty that could have serious playoff implications.
  • A West Coast trip to face the Sparks and Storm within three days.
  • Back home in late-August for games against Chicago and Las Vegas, two teams ahead of the Lynx in the standings.
  • Another matchup at home versus the Fever to begin September.

In this stretch, the Lynx will play seven games against playoff teams and two against the teams immediately behind them in the standings. The only reprieve the Lynx could have after the Dream on Tuesday comes against the Wings later in October.

What happens over the next few weeks could determine the outcome of the season for the Lynx. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see them lose games like Saturday night and to teams they should beat like the Dream.

It’s clear that the Lynx are struggling right now and understandably so. They’ve had injuries that have left them thin but there is also a good amount of talent left over. Avoiding uneven performances like the one we saw in Indiana on Saturday night will be important to them over the next month.

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