Lynx-Mystics Preview (Jun 7, 2017)
WASHINGTON -- The undefeated Minnesota Lynx sitting atop the overall WNBA standings isn't stunning at all.
The Washington Mystics holding second place is unusual based on history, but not outlandish following the offseason trade for Elena Delle Donne. The question of how close Washington truly is to contending for a title gets the spotlight treatment when Minnesota visits the Verizon Center on Friday night.
There is no question the Lynx (7-0) represent a major road block for the entire league. Minnesota entered the 2017 season having reached the WNBA Finals in five of the previous six seasons, though the Lynx lost to the Los Angeles Sparks last year. Fueled by that setback, the three-time champions have opened the season 4-0 on the road, and five of their wins came by at least nine points.
Minnesota hammered Seattle 100-77 on Saturday on the Storm's home court despite getting only six points from Olympian Maya Moore. Sylvia Fowles scored 26 points and Rebekkah Brunson had 21 against the team with the second-best record in the Western Conference. The average margin of victory over the Lynx's past three games is a whopping 17 points.
Fowles, who was named Western Conference Player of the Month for May, ranks among the top three league-wide in scoring (20.9), rebounding (10.1) steals (2.1) and blocks (2.3). The 6-foot-5 center is hardly the only notable on the starry roster.
"We've got players playing really well. We have Sylvia Fowles playing some of the best basketball of her career," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve told the team's website. "This is a veteran team. ... We're having fun. This is a group that has been together a long time, and this just never gets old to us."
What's happening in Washington (6-2) is new. The Mystics, though armed with several intriguing young players, went 13-21 last season. The organization has posted winning records only twice since 2007. Washington also has never had a player like Delle Donne, the 2015 league MVP.
Acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Chicago Sky in January, Delle Donne has provided Washington with high-impact play all over the court. The 6-foot-5 scoring threat is averaging 20.6 points and shooting 95 percent (57 of 60) from the free-throw line.
Delle Donne scored 23 points in Washington's 101-89 win at Dallas on Tuesday. Guards Tayler Hill and Kristi Toliver each had 17 points in the Mystics' fifth straight win. Washington outscored the Wings 27-17 in the second quarter and fended off a fourth-quarter push. Dallas shot 37.7 percent from the field.
"It was up and down, but I thought we played with the pace that we wanted to," Toliver said. "Dallas is a tough team, they're going to come back at you. They made a lot of runs. We made ours. But overall, it was a good game for us to grind out a win on the road."
Another Mystics guard, Natasha Cloud, had a solid all-around game against Dallas, finishing with eight points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Washington is second in the league with an average of 37.6 rebounds per game, but Minnesota tops all teams in offensive rebounding with 11.1 per contest.
"That's a big part of what they do," Reeve said of Washington's rebounding. "If we don't get that done Friday, we are going to have a problem. It's going to be tough. They are going to be really, really tough."
Nobody has to tell the Mystics how tough the Lynx are across the board.
"We've got Minnesota coming in, they're playing great basketball, they've got a bunch of superstars," Delle Donne said. "So, defensively, we're really going to have to step up our game. Offensively, we're going to have to keep up the tempo and let the pace help us."