August 14, 2021 

The Minnesota Lynx are ready to return full throttle

'I don’t know that it’s necessarily about carrying the moment over, but just continuing to get better'

Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Paid subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.

Minnesota Lynx guard Layshia Clarendon looks to pass the ball in a game against the Washington Mystics on June 8, 2021. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

Leading up to to the Olympic break, the Minnesota Lynx were on a seven-game win streak. After a difficult start to the season, they had started to look more like the team many expected them to be. 

The Lynx kick off their post-Olympic break schedule with a home game against the New York Liberty, immediately followed by a three-game road trip against the Connecticut Sun and the Chicago Sky. 

The remaining schedule is fairly balanced between home and away games. The Lynx are sitting comfortably in fourth place in the overall standings and are one of four teams over .500.

Here’s how they can continue to succeed in the second half of the season.

Reducing turnovers

Costly turnovers plagued the team throughout most of the first half of the season. The Lynx averaged 15.4 turnovers per game, which was third-worst in the league. 

Returning to practice this week before their Aug. 15 game against the New York Liberty, the Lynx have carved out time for individual player development.

“One of the most important things for us to work on was just our individual skills. When you work on the individual skills, it just makes the team skills come along a bit faster,” said assistant coach Plenette Pierson.

Cleaning up the Lynx’s offense will, in turn, reduce their turnovers. The Lynx allowed as much as 32 points off turnovers in the first half of the season.

“We wanted to make sure that our flow offensively was a little bit better than it was [in the first half of the season],” assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson told reporters, “moving together and just continuing to gel and to understand our teammates and our movements.”

A roster closer to full strength

The Lynx have played the majority of the season under hardship due to injuries, including a season-ending injury for first-round pick Rennia Davis. Jessica Shepard’s return to the team was stalled due to a groin injury and free-agency signings Natalie Achonwa and Aerial Powers have been out indefinitely with knee and thumb injuries, respectively.

But things appear to be looking up, with Shepard returning to play more significant minutes prior to the Olympic break and the Lynx announcing that Achonwa will be available for the game against the Liberty.

“[Achonwa] gives a lot of veteran leadership, [is] very vocal with her teammates and really helps with the flow of the game. That’s one thing that we were missing without her was her ability to command her teammates’ attention,” said Brunson.

“It’s tough to wear the brace but unfortunately that’s where I’m gonna be at. Hopefully not for the whole season, but at least for the near future I will be wearing it until I can feel fully comfortable without it on,” Achonwa told reporters.

Achonwa rejoins the team after playing in three games with Team Canada in the Olympics.

“Knowing that I have some games now under my belt and coming back into the WNBA season, it gives me some confidence,” said Achonwa. She averaged 8.3 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in the Olympics and recorded her first Olympic double-double on July 28 against South Korea with 14 points and 10 rebounds as well as five assists and one block.

The return of Achonwa means that the Lynx had to release forward Natasha Mack, who appeared in one game after signing with Minnesota on July 6. 

There’s no word yet on when Powers will be available, but the Lynx are the closest they’ve been all season to a full-strength roster. The Lynx’s second-half schedule includes road games against the Connecticut Sun, Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces, which are all currently in the top five in the standings. Having more of their roster available will bolster the Lynx’s chances of winning difficult contests.

Guard Layshia Clarendon and head coach Cheryl Reeve talk strategy at practice on June 18, 2021. (Photo credit: Minnesota Lynx Twitter)

Continued success of Layshia Clarendon and Kayla McBride

Although injuries kept the Lynx down for most of the season, a blessing in disguise was the addition of guard Layshia Clarendon (he/she/they) to the team. Originally signed in May, Clarendon was continuously signed and released throughout the month of June under temporary hardship contracts. On July 2, Clarendon was officially signed for the remainder of the season

They have been an integral addition to helping the Lynx bounce back after an 0-4 start to the season. The team is 12-3 since Clarendon joined the Lynx. During the Lynx’s seven-game winning streak, Clarendon averaged 14.1 points, 6.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds.

Guard Kayla McBride, who shot below 50 percent in the first six games of the season, turned the corner before the Olympic break, scoring 21+ points three games in a row.

“Sometimes you get in these moments where the ball is just going in and you feel good in the offense,” McBride told reporters after the team’s July 7 win over the Dallas Wings. “I really don’t think too much about that stuff; it’s more about how I feel.”

But it wasn’t just McBride’s offense that helped boost the Lynx in the final games before the Olympic break. McBride’s defense helped hold Dallas’ Arike Ogunbowale and Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi to some of their lowest scoring outputs of the season.

Expect McBride and Clarendon to continue to shine in Cheryl Reeve’s system.

All the pieces coming together

Although the Lynx got off to a tumultuous start, they successfully course-corrected, closing out the first half of the season with an 8-2 record. When asked whether they’ll be able to keep that streak alive in the latter half of the season, Brunson told reporters, “I don’t know that it’s necessarily about carrying the moment over, but just continuing to get better.”

The Lynx will continue to get better as more tools in their arsenal become available. Taking the time to hone in individual skills, having more players available and getting standout performances from players such as McBride and Clarendon are setting up the Lynx to make the playoffs and do what they’ve always done best—compete for a championship.

Written by Alyssa Graham

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.