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Previews: Lynx powering forward in playoff push, Mystics barely hanging on

Led by the ageless Sylvia Fowles, the Minnesota Lynx continue their rampage through the second half of their regular-season schedule. Next up: a Washington Mystics team that is fighting for a playoff spot despite injuries to several of its star players.

Los Angeles Sparks v Minnesota Lynx
Napheesa Collier (left), Sylvia Fowles and the Minnesota Lynx have won 12 of their last 14 games.
Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Lynx (17-9) will host the Washington Mystics (10-16) in a WNBA matchup on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. The game, which has playoff implications for both teams, will be broadcast on NBA TV.

The Lynx currently sit in fourth place in the WNBA standings and just a half-game behind the third-place Seattle Storm (19-10). It’s a position Minnesota has earned every bit of, with an 0-4 start to the season and multiple injuries to key players making the Lynx’s ascent to contention even more impressive. They’ve won 12 of their last 14 games dating back to June 23 — outscoring opponents by eight points per 100 possessions and fielding the league’s second-best defense during that span — and they’re now in position to pass Seattle for that coveted third seed.

To do so, the Lynx will need Sylvia Fowles to, well, continue being Sylvia Fowles. On Thursday, the Minnesota center notched another quality performance in what has been an MVP-caliber season, returning from a shoulder injury to post 15 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Los Angeles. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve quipped that a minutes restriction for Fowles “doesn’t work,” so as long as the team is in earshot of a higher playoff seed, Fowles will continue being its focal point.

Dallas Wings v Washington Mystics
In the Mystics’ depleted state, the energy and leadership of point guard Natasha Cloud will be more important than ever.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Washington, meanwhile, is also playing for postseason seeding, though the Mystics have far less margin for error than their opponents. They currently cling to the eighth and final playoff seed by a thread, fending off New York (11-18) and Los Angeles (10-18) by a half-game and game, respectively.

Further complicating things is the health of Washington’s superstars. WNBA leading scorer and longtime Fowles nemesis Tina Charles has missed the past four games with a gluteal injury, while two-time league MVP Elena Delle Donne is back on the shelf after reaggravating the back injury that has kept her out for most of the season.

While Charles will at least travel with the Mystics to Minnesota (Washington head coach Mike Thibault is optimistic about her playing), if she still can’t suit up, the Mystics will find themselves in a familiar position: undermanned, specifically pertaining to high-end talent. With their backs against the wall, can the Mystics pull an upset in what should be considered a must-win game?

Elsewhere, the Phoenix Mercury (16-10) travel to Indiana to play the Fever (6-19). Phoenix is another team that has turned around its fortunes, winning each of its past seven games and seeking another against the league’s 11th-place team. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET and the game can be viewed on NBA TV.

Game information

Phoenix Mercury (16-10) vs. Indiana Fever (6-19)

When: Saturday, Sept. 4 at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis, IN

How to watch: WNBA League Pass, NBA TV, Bally Sports Indiana, Bally Sports AZ, TSN5

Mercury injury report: Bria Hartley (questionable; right knee)

Fever injury report: Danielle Robinson (out; right ankle), Chelsey Perry (out for season; right knee), Bernadett Határ (out; right ankle), Kysre Gondrezick (out; personal leave)

Keys to the matchup: While the obvious key individual matchup is in the middle between centers Brittney Griner and Teaira McCowan, Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith has been on an absolute tear. In her last five games, she is averaging 23.2 points per game on a blistering true shooting percentage of 72.7, carrying the Mercury offense to victories over Chicago and New York. Indiana will need to keep Diggins-Smith out of the paint — a task far easier said than done — while simultaneously making life difficult for the Mercury to enter the ball to Griner in the post in order to upset Phoenix.

Washington Mystics (10-16) vs. Minnesota Lynx (17-9)

When: Saturday, Sept. 4 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: WNBA League Pass, NBA TV, Bally Sports North

Mystics injury report: Tina Charles (questionable; left gluteal strain), Elena Delle Donne (out; back), Myisha Hines-Allen (out; non-COVID illness)

Lynx injury report: Layshia Clarendon (out; right lower leg), Damiris Dantas (out for season; right foot), Rennia Davis (out for season; left foot stress fracture)

Keys to the matchup: Much hinges on the health of Charles. If she’s able to go, Washington will at least have a chance of matching Fowles one-on-one; if not, the Mystics must rely heavily on spacing the floor with shooting bigs like Theresa Plaisance in an effort to pull Fowles out of the paint. Washington could also try to exploit the small stature of Lynx guard Crystal Dangerfield; the 2020 Rookie of the Year has been pressed into additional action with Layshia Clarendon recovering from a leg injury, so if the Mystics’ Natasha Cloud draws the assignment on Dangerfield, expect her to hound her on both ends of the floor.