Posted Sep 28 2011 10:57AM
It's quite possible that, of all the slights and insults hurled at the Timberwolves lately, "playing like females" probably was uttered or tweeted once or twice at some point. Although right now, that would be high praise, and maybe even a goal, for the No. 2 professional basketball team in town.
As for the No. 1 team? That's the Lynx, who are giving the Twin Cities a type of team they haven't seen since George Mikan laced up Converse hi-tops.
In a week's time, championship champagne could be slurped in the home locker room at Target Center, known as the place where Latrell Sprewell once bemoaned the hardships of feeding prime rib and caviar to his kids. Just think about the curious disconnection here: the Timberwolves usually hit the links when they're season is mercifully done. Meanwhile, these Lynx are hitting their stride here in the title stretch run.
They'll host the WNBA Finals come Sunday and will be the heavy favorites to win it, possibly in a sweep. The Lynx are everything the Wolves aren't: star-filled, deep, mature, free of controversy and even lovable. Yes, they are all that, which is enough to make you forget that until this season, they were actually worse than the Wolves.
Really, really worse than the Wolves. Just three playoff appearances in their 13-year history bad.
So it's rather refreshing to see Minnesota on the cusp of greatness in basketball, even if it's "female" basketball. And nobody is more relieved than Glen Taylor, the poor billionaire who owns both teams, who might see Seimone Augustus do what the most famous player in Timberwolves history couldn't do before he bailed to Boston. And at about $200 million less in salary, to boot.
Taylor sits courtside at Lynx games with a smile, an expression rarely seen at Wolves games. Hey, winning can do that, and it makes no difference what game you're winning at. For sure, basketball fans in Minnesota have had much to cheer about this summer. The Lynx are loaded at nearly every position, sent four players to the All-Star Game, have a 40-year-old center who scored 21 points in the conference-clinching win, have the Rookie of the Year and the Coach of the Year. Should they steamroll past Atlanta, as most expect, you will hear talk of a potential dynasty. Imagine that.
"They probably will win it," said Phoenix coach Corey Gaines. "Not putting the other teams down, but they are tough and have a lot of scorers in every direction."
Imagine that from a team that won only 13 out of 34 games a year ago, which represented only the fifth-worst season in team history.
The Wolves were never this bad. Sure, that sounds strange right now, with the team locked in a last-place chokehold, failing to make the playoffs since 2004. But the Wolves did enjoy a golden stretch that lasted about seven years, even if it feels like 70 years ago. The Lynx? They tore through seven coaches in nine years and until now won only one playoff game. Not a series. A game.
So what happened? Well, some good moves, some luck. They happened to be horrible enough to get the No. 1 pick the year Maya Moore left UConn. And Augustus, projected to be the Jordan or Magic of the WNBA when she arrived from the draft, finally shook free of the injuries (knee and abdominal surgery) that dogged her pro career. And they swung a deal for Lindsey Whalen a year ago, who didn't have anyone to throw the ball to until now. And Rebekkah Brunson turned into a perfect role player who didn't demand the ball. Finally, Taj McWilliams-Franklin managed to hold herself together and keep playing despite being on the other side of 40.
Taylor could've pulled the plug on the Lynx at any time, much as other owners did in Detroit and Sacramento (after winning titles, no less) and Miami. But Taylor is either a glutton for punishment or the eternal optimist, the latter finally being fulfilled here by the Lynx.
"Glen Taylor is an owner that has taken heat through the years about keeping the WNBA in Minneapolis," said coach Cheryl Reeve. "So he has weathered some tough times. And to do this for him is really exciting."
So that's the recipe for success, a little this and that, something that general manager David Kahn would be wise to borrow and apply to the Wolves so the owner can wear the same grin when the NBA season begins. Whenever that is.
With the Lynx suddenly the talk of town -- well, along with the talk of benching Donovan McNabb -- the current generation of basketball fans in Minny just want to know what a celebration looks like, feels like.
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