- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
LOS ANGELES -- Let's face it, the Minnesota Lynx are 13-3 this season, so the sky isn't exactly falling.
But it was a subdued Lynx locker room Thursday afternoon after a 96-90 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks at Staples Center.
Minnesota quietly pondered a tough loss to the team many regard as the second-best in the league and certainly second-best in the Western Conference; a loss in which the best defensive team in the league gives up more than 90 points for the second game in a row; a loss that included, at one point, a 20-point deficit before a late rally.
The Lynx have lost back-to-back games for the first time since June 24-26 last season. That's more than a year of rebounding from defeat with victory, even longer since Minnesota has experienced three straight road losses (August 2010). So this particular bitter taste is a little unfamiliar.
"This is our third loss of the season and if you've been in our locker room you would think we are 3-15," said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus, who led Minnesota with 18 points. "That's how much pressure we put on ourselves. Our expectations are that high."
But credit the Los Angeles Sparks (11-6) for looking like the better team on this day, much the same way the San Antonio Silver Stars did over the weekend.
The Sparks came into Thursday's game -- in which the seats were loaded with elementary school students spending the day at summer camp -- with three straight losses, a streak that has coincided with the sore knee of star Candace Parker.
But Parker looked better than just fine here, finishing with 28 points and 13 rebounds.
Guard Kristi Toliver, meanwhile, finished with a game-high 29 points, including a 6-for-6 day beyond the 3-point stripe.
From the Minnesota perspective, "That can't happen," Augustus said.
Watching the Sparks' best players "get theirs," as the saying goes, is what galled Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve the most.
"They didn't have to get the third or fourth options in their offense," Reeve said. "Everything was their first or second option and we had two players that absolutely lit us up. It was an easy game for them and they made our defense look silly.
"That's the second game in a row where an opponent was hitting on cylinders offensively."
Los Angeles' win snapped a five-game losing streak to the Lynx and it will be the cause for some pause among the Lynx players.
"We are not executing our defensive game plan, just not enough to get the stops we needed," Maya Moore said. "We were doing a lot of little things we couldn't afford to on both ends."
Reeve said that even when her team has been winning, she has felt there is something missing.
"Even when we are winning games, we are talking about the same things," Reeve said. "You can't give up 90-something points. ... And nothing's changed and that's why we lost."
Reeve said her team is better in some ways, and certainly more experienced at playing together.
"We hear from our opponents, opposing coaches that we don't have any weaknesses," Reeve said. "I don't necessarily see it. When you are in it, you see your shortcomings. We are not as good as we were last year defensively. The grit and the hunger, we haven't found that yet this year."
Are grit and hunger a little harder to come by when you've already achieved your goal?
"It seems like that," Augustus said. "We have to find what it is to tap into this year. Of course we want to achieve that again. We have to find that thing that drives us to play our best. I'm not worried. We are still in a good position. We have three losses ..."
Moore said Minnesota has to get back to "imposing our will" on opponents.
"We are not dictating the action enough and it's up to us," Moore said. "There are definitely some changes on our end that need to be made."
Perhaps change comes after the Olympic break, when Moore and Augustus and Lindsay Whalen return from London. The Lynx close the first half of the schedule with a home game on Saturday against Connecticut and then a road-home set against Tulsa, the last game on July 12 before returning to action on Aug. 17.
Perhaps the Lynx don't have to be quite as good as they were last year in order to win another title.
On paper, it's gone pretty well so far. The locker room, however, tells a different story.