Five Takeaways from the Minnesota Lynx's season opener

On Sunday, the Lynx lost a heartbreaker to their perennial rival, the Los Angeles Sparks. Here are few things we learned from Minnesota's season opener.

The Lynx were supposed to win their season opener. They were facing their old rival, the Los Angeles Sparks, at home in Target Center. The Sparks were missing Candace Parker, who is not only LA's franchise player but one of the greatest to ever play the game. 

However, the Sparks shocked the Lynx by taking the lead. Though Minnesota, lead by Lindsay Whalen and Sylvia Fowles, managed to mount a comeback, it was not enough. In the final seconds of the game, Chelsea Gray hit a layup to win the game for LA, 77-76.

It was an unfortunate way to follow the Lynx's 2017 ring presentation ceremony, considering the team that took the floor on Sunday looked very little like last year's iteration. After this disappointing loss, it's time to analyze exactly what we learned from the Lynx's latest matchup the Sparks. 

1. Take care of the ball

The Lynx lost to the Sparks without Parker, not to mention the fact that Jantel Lavender and Marie Vadeeva have not yet returned from their clubs overseas. That's certainly not a good sign, but it's not time to panic quite yet. This was one of those rare contests in which the story of the game can be told in just one word: turnovers.

The Sparks had six turnovers in the game. Fowles alone had the same amount. The entire Lynx squad had 24 turnovers.

Minnesota had approximately one turnover every two minutes. It's hard to rack up a lot of points if you never have the ball in your hands.

Fowles is an incredible, dominant player in the post, but she's not invincible. The Sparks' defense kept collapsing on her, and yet the Lynx kept on sending the ball to her inside. It led to a massive amount of turnovers. In the future, Minnesota needs to be more willing to adapt and to play smarter basketball.

2. Seimone Augustus is 34

The average age of the Lynx's starters is 33.2. It's crazy that they're that old and are still one of the best teams in the league. It's hard to think of Augustus as old when she's sitting next to Rebekkah Brunson and Whalen, who are both 36. And yet, she's getting to the age when most players are on the decline. Just because her teammates are unaging superhumans doesn't mean she too is immune to the effects of time. 

Augustus was a mid-range goddess in her prime, but over the last few years, her scoring has slowly declined. In Sunday's game, she had just six points. It's unlikely that this will become the norm for the rest of this season, but it is worth noting that she's not the player she used to be. 

3. Lindsay Whalen is a beast

Over the offseason, Whalen accepted the women's basketball head coaching job at her alma mater, the University of Minnesota. Early in May, she landed her first two recruits. The many hours spent on her new job didn't seem to throw a wrench in Whalen's play on Sunday. She had a team-high 17 points and nine assists. 

10 of these points came in the fourth quarter as she led the Lynx back from a double-digit deficit. She hit two clutch free throws with 5.8 seconds on the clock, nearly winning the game for Minnesota.

Head coach? 36-years-old? Lindsay Whalen doesn't care; she's too busy getting buckets. 

4. Lynetta Kizer is rock solid

Kizer only played six minutes in her regular season Target Center debut, but she was a star on the underwhelming new bench unit. She did exactly what she was signed to do: play smart, tough basketball.

After leaving the Lynx's preseason finale with pain in her sacroiliac joint, there was worry about whether Kizer would be able to play in the home opener. Luckily, she felt well enough to play on Sunday. She had two points, three rebounds, three assists, and most importantly, no turnovers.

She was the only Minnesota reserve to end the game without a negative plus/minus. In fact, she was a plus-eight for the contest.

5. Sparks vs. Lynx is the perfect rivalry

Sparks vs. Lynx has everything a great rivalry needs. The two teams have remained pretty even talent-wise, making every game full of suspense. With this loss, the Lynx are now 8-8 against the Sparks in their last 16 games. They have also faced each other in the last two Finals, and each came away as champions once. Both series went down to the wire in Game 5.

 Of course, this game was won on a buzzer beater. That's just how LA and Minnesota roll.

There is also a great deal of continuity in the rosters. Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson, and Sylvia Fowles have been the Lynx's starting five throughout this rivalry. For the Sparks, Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, and Alana Beard have all been on the team since their first testy playoff series against the Lynx in 2015. 

Since these players are so used to battling it out, real hostility brews. Per the Star Tribune, Seimone Augustus said of the rivalry, "...there is dislike there. I don’t know if you’ve heard the mic-up situations, but it gets intense. When we’re between those lines, we’re trying to be the greatest team of all time. Or the greatest players, at that moment. L.A. tends to be the team that brings it out in us.’’

One such mic'd up situation came last year, when Cheryl Reeve called Ogwumike "the number one flopper in the league."

Even in Sunday's game, there was a heated shouting match that led to technicals being assessed to Reeve, Whalen, Sims, Odyssey Sims, and Cappie Pondexter. 

This familiarity between players breeds not only enmity but also true respect. Last year after facing Beard in five chippy Finals games, Moore spoke openly about her appreciation of the other player. "She pushes me," Moore said, per ESPN. "We make each other work. There's a lot of respect between us."

The Lynx and Sparks are well on their way to becoming an all-time great rivalry, up there with the likes of Affirmed vs. Alydar, Celtics vs. Lakers, and Bears vs. Packers. With any luck, the next chapter of their story will be just as dramatic as the last.

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