Minnesota captured the No. 1 overall seed the past two years, but with seven regular-season games remaining the Storm (20-7) heads into Friday’s 7 p.m. battle at KeyArena against the Lynx (15-10) with a 3½-game lead for the league’s best record.
This season was supposed to be a precursor to a third WNBA Finals matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks.
L.A. won the title in 2016 before Minnesota exacted revenge last year for its fourth championship in the past seven years.
However, the Storm’s recent run to the top of the standings may spoil a coveted rubber match for the league’s championship trophy.
With fewer than three weeks remaining before the start of the postseason Aug. 19, Seattle has emerged from a pack of playoff contenders and positioned itself for its third WNBA title in franchise history.
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Minnesota captured the No. 1 overall seed the past two years, but with seven regular-season games remaining the Storm (20-7) heads into Friday’s 7 p.m. battle at KeyArena against the Lynx (15-10) with a four-game lead for the league’s best record.
Since starting 3-6 and falling to eighth in the standings, Minnesota is 12-4 and has climbed to third place behind Seattle and Atlanta.
“Our confidence is fine,” reigning MVP Sylvia Fowles said during the All-Star break. “It was fine when we were losing. We’re just going to take it one game at a time. We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves.”
The 32-year-old Fowles, who is averaging 17.1 points and a career-high 11.7 rebounds, is the only player averaging double-digits in rebounds.
Much like 37-year-old Storm star Sue Bird, the 6-foot-6 Minnesota center is among a handful of players who continue to thrive late in their careers.
In her 16th season, Bird broke the team’s career scoring record and the league’s all-time games played mark while averaging a personal-best 7.2 assists.
“It’s so easy to learn from her,” said Lynx guard Tanisha Wright, a 13-year-veteran who played 10 years (2005-14) with the Storm. “She’s so knowledgeable and has so much wisdom in terms of the game. She’s so smart. She picks you apart not just in her ability to score, but her ability to facilitate and get everyone else in position to score at their strengths, and that’s the biggest compliment that I can give her.
“And the fact that she’s very trustworthy playing beside her, I can trust her when I’m out there with her. She’s just an amazing player. She’s probably one of the best point guards we’ve seen in women’s basketball, if not the best.”
With an average age of 33.4, Minnesota has the oldest starting lineup in the WNBA. Speculation arose that the Lynx were too old to successfully navigate this abbreviated season that compressed 34 games into a three-month schedule.
“You have to be so focused, so locked in, and all the little things make a big difference when it comes to getting a win or not getting a win every night,” said 29-year-old forward Maya Moore, Minnesota’s youngest starter. “Teams have to be able to focus in and execute down the stretch. Again, the margin from victory to defeat is so, so narrow.
“It’s great for the game. It’s just very stressful for anyone who’s invested in us as people because these games, they’re devastating because we’re all picking up our intensity, and so each game feels like a playoff game.”
Seattle, which lost 91-79 at Minnesota on June 26, needs a win Friday to avoid losing the regular-season series. The teams meet Aug. 12 in a game that’ll likely have playoff implications.
“The standings are pretty tight,” Fowles said. “It’s going to get down to the nitty gritty, but that will make it interesting. Every team in this league is good. Bring your ‘A’ game every night.”