Web Editorial Associate
Last year, the Minnesota Lynx reached the WNBA Finals for the fifth time in a six-year span.
That is where they faced the Los Angeles Sparks, falling in five games of a back-and-forth series and ultimately coming up just shy of their goal of winning their fourth championship in six seasons.
On Thursday night, the two teams face off for the first time since Game 5 of the 2016 WNBA Finals.
“I think you can expect that right now the two best teams in the league to go for a ‘W’ because it’s the next game on each team’s schedule,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Obviously, the billing of a rematch and everything, that’s a natural thing for people to say. It’s not a rematch, it’s not the Finals, it’s a regular season game and both teams are jockeying for position. I’m sure both teams are going to want to win the game pretty badly.”
With the start of this season, the 2016 Finals is off of the minds of the Lynx players and coaches. They are locked in and focused on taking care of business in 2017.
“Once we started training camp and start scheming for this years team, most of that leaves other than when people bring it up, then you talk about it. It’s not at the top of our mind anymore, it’s done and over with,” Reeve said. “I think, for fans, it’s a natural thing for them to still have it on their minds because they don’t get the chances that we have to gear up for a different opponent and focusing on that.”
The first matchup of 2017 on Thursday night will feature similar things to a season ago.
The Lynx come into the game with the best record in the WNBA at 12-1 overall, while the Sparks enter at 12-3 overall. In 2016, Minnesota held the best regular season record (28-6), with Los Angeles finishing in second (26-8).
The game will also feature two of the WNBA’s top two-way teams. The Lynx rank first in both points per game (88.0) and points allowed per game (76.2), while the Stars rank third in both points per game (85.8) and points allowed (78.1).
“They are similar to us in a lot of ways. They rebound, they run, they score. It’s pretty much us in a different uniform,” Sylvia Fowles said. “That’s what is exciting about playing LA, you get a little test.”
Thursday’s game will be filled with numerous players statistically right at the top of the WNBA in numerous categories.
For Minnesota, Fowles leads the way averaging 20.7 points (2nd in WNBA), 10.1 rebounds (2nd) and 1.8 blocks (3rd), making a strong case for an early-season MVP candidate. Maya Moore is averaging 16.4 points (13th) and six rebounds (17th), Seimone Augustus is averaging 11.6 points (30th), Rebekkah Brunson is up to 10.6 points and 7.2 rebounds (10th) and Lindsay Whalen is averaging 8.9 points and 4.6 assists (8th).
For Los Angeles, Nneka Ogwumike is averaging 19.4 points (5th) and 6.7 rebounds (11th), Candace Parker is averaging 17 points (9th), 8.3 rebounds (7th) and 1.8 blocks (2nd) and Chelsea Gray is averaging 16.2 points (14th) and 4.3 assists (11th).
Two star-studded teams no doubt. And they face off for the first time this season on Thursday night.
“As a competitor, you love games like this. A lot of energy around the matchup. The history makes it that more fun of a game,” Moore said. “As a player, you look forward to games like this. I’m sure it will show when the lights come on and both teams get on the floor.”
The Lynx and Sparks will square off at 7 p.m. Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The game will be aired on ESPN2 and 106.1 BOB FM. You can get tickets to the game at LynxBasketball.com/tickets.