Lynx have plenty to work on before season begins
MINNEAPOLIS — Cheryl Reeve’s sure not short on gratitude for days like Tuesday.
And Wednesday. And the better part of Thursday.
“We saw a lot of things we need to work on; that’s what the preseason is for,” the Minnesota Lynx coach said Tuesday afternoon following her team’s second and final exhibition game. “The unknowns on our team of who is actually going to be on it and what their role is, and that’s what we have to work out.
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“We needed a quality game, quality opponent.”
There’s a lot for the defending Western Conference champions to decipher between now and their season opener June 1, especially after an 88-80 home exhibition defeat against Connecticut at the Target Center. Negative trends have already emerged, along with a couple mild injuries, and three players will be sent home by Thursday afternoon.
What better scenario to evaluate, then, than a tightly-contested matchup between championship-caliber clubs?
“You can learn a lot from a game like this,” said guard/forward Monica Wright, who led Minnesota in scoring during its first exhibition Saturday in Bismarck, N.D., but struggled Tuesday. “A lot of it is things we can control.”
A game that never saw a scoring margin of more than five until the Sun’s 10-2 run to close the fourth quarter revealed the Lynx’s early weaknesses, reinforced some old strengths and afforded its younger contingent a prime chance to leave an impression with Reeve, who must cut the roster from 14 to 11 players by Thursday’s 4 p.m. deadline.
Defensive rebounding and value for the basketball will be the main themes while she pours over game video in the coming days. Even without 2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles on the bench via first-year coach Anne Donovan’s decision, Connecticut pounced on long misses and blocked out more effectively to the tune of 19 offensive boards.
Minnesota bigs Shawnice Wilson, Amber Harris and Devereaux Peters all received extra minutes with possible starter Janel McCarville out with a mild ankle sprain but combined for just nine defensive rebounds. The Sun shot 31 3-pointers, forcing the Lynx guards to try and track down wayward ricochets with minimal success.
Minnesota also gave up 10 offensive boards in a 74-57 victory Saturday over the Washington Mystics.
“Occasionally, you have bad games, but there has been a slight trend for us that we are not happy with,” Reeve said. “We have a choice in how we respond, and I’m not going to go into practice the next day and do rebounds drills out the wazoo. You either have the heart and determination and effort to do it, or you don’t.”
Minnesota’s also combating turnover issues, giving the ball away 40 times in two games. Receiving most of her minutes at point guard Tuesday, Wright committed six of them, aiding Connecticut’s 33 points off turnovers.
Not a good sign for a squad that ranked sixth in the 12-team WNBA in turnover differential last season.
“Again, another uncharacteristic of us,” Reeve said, “but it’s preseason; you have new players, players that don’t always understand where they are supposed to be and exactly what we are running.
Said Wright: “We’re going to have to clean that up.”
Indeed, statistics are skewed in an environment where the starters quickly give way to hopeful up-and-comers. Usual point guard Lindsay Whalen played just 21 minutes, 52 seconds Tuesday, and first-round draft pick Lindsey Moore (calf soreness) sat out as a precaution.
That gave fellow rookie guards Rachel Jarry (19 minutes) and Sugar Rodgers (23 minutes) ample opportunity to make their case for a roster spot.
Rodgers made a pair of left-wing 3-pointers, including one on an alert assist from Whalen at the first-quarter buzzer, and Jarry added four points and five rebounds — a quieter outing than her 11-point performance in Bismarck.
Those two join Wilson and Chucky Jeffery, among others, in a group scratching to round out Reeve’s rotation.
“I haven’t really been told anything yet,” Jarry said. “I just keep trying to put my best foot forward, and hopefully that sort of stuff takes care of itself.”
The Australia native will fight to keep working alongside U.S. National Team members Whalen, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus — all of whom scored in double figures Tuesday – who return along with post presence Rebekah Brunson. Those four led Minnesota to the brink of a second straight league championship last season and appear healthy and in top form entering this one.
It’s the pieces behind them Reeve has to worry about placing.
She now has a 1-1 preseason from which to draw wisdom.
“I’m really bad about the positives,” said Reeve, whose team hosts the Sun again at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 1 to open the regular season. “Really, really bad. You guys will have to tell me how the positives have been.
“It’s my nature to focus on things we didn’t do well, so we can prevent them from happening again.”
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