Last October, the Minnesota Lynx reached the WNBA Finals for the fifth time in six years.
The Lynx were one point shy of winning their fourth championship in six seasons; they were defeated by the Los Angeles Sparks 77-76 in Game 5.
Tonight, the teams face-off for the first time since the WNBA Finals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"It's not a rematch, it’s not the WNBA Finals," Minnesota’s head coach Cheryl Reeve said. "It's a regular-season game, and both teams are jockeying for position, and I'm sure both teams are going to want to win the game pretty badly."
Lynx center Sylvia Fowles agreed. "It definitely sparks something in us, because we did lose to them last year. That's always on our mind when we have to go back and face them."
Going into Thursday’s game, the Lynx hold the best record in the WNBA at 12-1 overall, while the Sparks are a close second at 12-3 overall. There’s a lot at stake when two teams deemed the best in the WNBA go head-to-head. Though the finals are several months away, fans are optimistic that it could be Minnesota (12-1) and Los Angeles (12-3) battling for the crown again this year.
“Every game matters in the WNBA,” said Lynx forward Maya Moore. “There’s no games off. There’s no ‘oh, we didn’t need that game.’ You have to take advantage of every game, especially when there’s a small margin like this one. It’s going to be a high-energy match. As a competitor, you love games like this.”
The six-foot, six-year veteran is a huge asset to Minnesota’s offense, racking up an average of 16.4 points per game and six rebounds. The Lynx hold the top spot in points per game (88), with Fowles being the lead scorer, averaging 20.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
As for the Sparks, Nneka Ogwumike is averaging 19.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. Candace Parker boasts an average of 17 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Chelsea Gray, who is playing her second year with Los Angeles, is back dominating on the court, and showing flashes of her brilliance, after suffering multiple injuries to her knees. Recently, Gray has stepped up to the plate, averaging 16.2 points and 4.3 assists.
“I think Chelsea Gray has been really hard to play against. She’s changed the way of how she contributes. She takes some hard shots and has become one of their top 3 scorers,” said Coach Reeve.
“It’s fun to see her development and be a part of her growth,” said Los Angeles forward Candace Parker. “She’s able to mentally keep up with a team. When you’re playing healthy, you’re playing free.”
The Sparks are going into Thursday night’s game on an eight-game winning streak, but the Lynx are no easy rival.
“For a long period of time, Minnesota has been very consistent at a very high level. I contribute that to the core group of players they have,” said Los Angeles head coach Brian Agler. “We have new people. I’m still trying to get a feel of who can do what. I know we’re not at our best, I don’t know what our best can be. We’re still growing.”
The game will be live on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. CT on Thursday.