GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) - Bill Laimbeer and Cheryl Reeve are downplaying the significance of Friday night’s game between the WNBA’s conference leaders.
As Minnesota’s coach put it, “it’s a chance to add another ‘W’ in the win column. There’s no championship being won. It’s just a chance to get better.”
Laimbeer also said that there’s no added meaning to the game besides a chance to further distance New York from the rest of the East.
“Every game is important this time of year,” the Liberty coach said.
It almost sounds as if the two longtime friends coordinated their answers. The two have known each other from Reeve’s days as an assistant for Laimbeer when they were winning titles with the Detroit Shock. They still text a few times a week.
The pair has guided their teams to the top of their conferences and will meet for the first time this season Friday in the first of two matchups over the next nine days. This is the latest in the season that two WNBA conference leaders have met for the first time according to STATS.
While Minnesota has already clinched a playoff berth, New York’s magic number sits at one. A win by the Liberty over the Lynx on Friday would give New York its first playoff berth in three seasons.
“It means something to me,” New York’s Tina Charles said. “Growing up in Queens, New York, and what we’ve been able to accomplish this year, it’s special for me to be a part of it. I haven’t been to the playoffs in the last two years of my career and to be able to get this team back there would be huge.”
New York (18-8) also is percentage points ahead of Minnesota (19-9) for the best record in the league.
“In the back of both teams’ minds we’re thinking about overall record,” Charles said. “This game means a lot, it also would help us separate ourselves from other Eastern Conference teams.”
The Liberty, who have seven games left after Friday, hold a 1½-game lead on Indiana for the No. 1 seed in the East. Clinching a playoff spot would be nice, but the Liberty have bigger goals. They haven’t reached the conference finals since 2010 and haven’t made it to the WNBA Finals since 2002.
“Yes we’re on the verge of making the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean anything to us anymore,” Laimbeer said. “I don’t think it did throughout the course of the year. I don’t think it was one of our goals, we had loftier goals than that.”
While New York hasn’t been in the championship chase for more than a decade, Minnesota has been to the Finals in three of the past four seasons and won two titles.
The Lynx were the prohibitive favorite to win a third crown in five seasons coming into this year, but they have struggled lately since acquiring All-Star center Sylvia Fowles.
They have gone just 7-5 since the blockbuster deal on July 28 after starting the season 12-4.
“It definitely takes a lot of work to maintain a winning record and a winning culture,” Lynx forward Maya Moore said. “We’re trying to focus on the day to day. We haven’t been as efficient as we wanted on the offensive end. We’re taking steps forward.”
Part of the Lynx problem recently might just be fatigue. They are finishing off a hectic month where they had 10 games in 23 days. They finally had a few days off this week to recoup and prepare for Friday’s matchup.
“It’s not a lack of effort, we’re playing hard,” Reeve said. “We’re not playing well enough to win hard road games in that stretch. We would like to be able to have a signature win on the road before the playoffs starts.”
Beating the Eastern Conference leader would qualify. Minnesota may have to do it without Seimone Augustus.
She’s missed half the games this past month dealing with a knee and foot injury. Reeve said that Augustus is out “indefinitely” and they are taking it day by day.
“She’s a big piece of what we’re doing,” Reeve said. “As soon as she can get back on the floor, we’ll have her.”
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