Strong finish: Defending champ Lynx have their ‘mojo back’

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) For the WNBA’s current dynasty, an uncharacteristic amount of early season losses raised questions about whether the league had outlasted an aging team.

The Minnesota Lynx weren’t wondering. They never lost their swagger, even if a 3-6 start suggested it was gone. After winning their last three games before the All-Star break, the Lynx are back on their playoff track with nine games to go in the regular season.

”Our confidence is fine. It was fine when we were losing,” center Sylvia Fowles said. ”We’re just taking it one game at a time.”

With a 15-10 record, the Lynx are only a half-game behind the Atlanta Dream in a crowded pursuit of the ever-important second seed. Seattle leads the league at 20-7, but now that the WNBA no longer sets up the playoffs based on conferences the Lynx don’t have to be overly concerned about catching the Storm.

”Everybody’s going to hang on every game and every movement in the standings, but we’re not going to,” coach Cheryl Reeve said this week. ”This is over nine games. We’re going to build our case over nine games.”

The first five of these final nine contests come over an eight-day span, beginning on Thursday night at Los Angeles, their final scheduled meeting with the Sparks. Then they stay on the road to play the Storm on Friday night, before returning home to face the Dream on Sunday night. For Reeve, the challenge will be giving her 30-something players enough rest down the stretch to be fresh for the playoffs but trying not to concede any games in the process. Finish anywhere from third through eighth, and they’ll be in a single-elimination situation to start the postseason. That wouldn’t be an ideal way to start the defense of their 2017 championship, their fourth in the last seven years.

”Obviously you want to work for the best position in the playoffs, but you also want to be in the best position in the playoffs, if that makes sense. So we’ll know as the games go on. It’s certainly something we’ll be mindful of,” Reeve said. ”Fingers crossed that we manage that OK.”

The Lynx can’t get that 3-6 start back, but they’re experienced enough not to let that define their 2018 season.

”I think throughout every season we’ve had points where we’ve hit little rough spots,” forward Rebekkah Brunson said. ”It just came early on for us this year. So that’s a little bit of a surprise, but we know what it takes to handle these situations and put ourselves in a better position going forward.”

For Brunson, Fowles, forward Maya Moore and guard Seimone Augustus, the quartet of players representing the Lynx at the All-Star game, the opportunity to compete in the league’s showcase event but stay at home was a welcomed one. Every little bit of extra rest counts at this stage.

”I feel like we’ve got our mojo back,” Augustus said, proudly pointing to the effort required for the 85-82 victory over the New York Liberty on July 24. ”If that was any indication of what the second half of the season is going to be like, I feel like we’re going to be there. As long as we’re in the pack, as long as we’ve got opportunities, we’re fine.”