Great expectations: Minnesota Lynx open 2014 as the clear favorite


"Loserville" doesn't apply to the Minnesota Lynx.

While many of the North Star State's pro teams have languished in the playoffs (or even in the regular season) in recent years, the Lynx have constructed a team built for immediate and long-term results. Minnesota's talent has been abundantly evident the past three seasons, taking two WNBA titles in that span – sweeping Atlanta in 2011 and 2013 – and losing in the finals during the non-championship year.

The Lynx kick off the 2014 season Friday night at Washington, and prognosticators around the country see more winning in store.

 A Strong Core

The Lynx's combination of young talent and veteran leadership has proved a lethal combination. Maya Moore, the 6-foot, third-year forward from UConn, leads the way. Moore was the Finals MVP and First Team All-WNBA in 2013, is a two-time WNBA All-Star, led the league in both 3-point shooting and 3-point percentage last year – and is still only 24 years old. She's surrounded by fan-favorite Lindsay Whalen, talented veteran guard Seimone Augustus, bruising center Janel McCarville, and a strong bench led by Monica Wright.

"With a strong nucleus back, the Lynx could easily return to the finals," writes USA Today in its season preview.

ESPN describes Minnesota as the favorite once again, and says the team could challenge the late 1990s Houston Comets as a WNBA dynasty.

"And considering the core group that has gotten the Lynx to this point is still together and playing well," ESPN says, "it's natural to wonder just how many titles Minnesota can win."

The WNBA general managers seem to feel the same way. In a preseason survey of league GMs, asking which team was most likely to win the title, the Lynx collected 58 percent of the vote. The No. 2 team, the Los Angeles Sparks, secured just 25 percent. Meanwhile Moore's name showed up in a number of categories (including bets small forward and top player to start a ranchise with) on a survey about top individual players; Whalen was also named top point guard in that survey. And Cheryl Reeve, beginning her fourth season with the Lynx, was picked as top head coach.

The Lynx are the WNBA's "gold standard," Newsday says.

Early Injuries

The biggest hurdle, at least right now, appears to be injuries.

Rebekkah Brunson, a 6-foot-2 forwardwho averaged 8.9 rebounds last year (good for fifth in the league), is out at least two months with a knee injury, USA Today reported. And the bench spark Wright had arthroscopic knee surgery in April, WCCO reported, and is out indefinitely. Reserve Devereaux Peters is also out for the start of the season with a knee injury.

USA Today says those injuries account for three of the team's six best players.

"The biggest key for the Lynx to repeat will be how quickly the team can get healthy," the site writes.

ESPN says the missing players could cause the Lynx to fall behind in the standings early, especially in a competitive Western Conference that includes the Sparks and Phoenix Mercury.

"Still, Minnesota simply knows how to win games," the site writes, "and there's no reason to think the Lynx won't win a lot of them."

History in the Making?

The Lynx have gone 80-22 during the regular season the past three years, and 19-5 in the playoffs.

If Minnesota lives up to the lofty expectations, the team would become the first to win back-to-back WNBA titles since the Sparks in 2002, the Star Tribune notes, and only the second team to ever do so.

A loss in the 2012 championship series – 3-1 to Indiana – still hangs over the team, the Star Tribune says. It's a painful "what-could-have-been" memory; the difference between potential back-to-back titles – as is the reality now – and what could have been four championship in a row. That would have matched the Comets, who won the title from 1997 through 2000.

Instead, the Lynx aren't even halfway there.

“That time in 2012 will stick with us until we retire,” Moore tells the Star Tribune.

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