Timberwolves Watching Lynx Playoff Run Closely
Long before Candice Wiggins was a WNBA champion with the Minnesota Lynx, before she was a two-sport athlete at Stanford and before she collected prep accolade after accolade in the San Diego area, she was on Wolves forward Chase Budinger’s radar. The two didn’t know each other personally, but in one half of a basketball game Wiggins left a pretty substantial impression on her future NBA counterpart.
During a matchup when he was in sixth grade, Budinger and his squad held a double-digit lead heading into the second half. But when the opposing team returned, a teammate they were missing in the first half joined them on the court. In this all-boys game, Wiggins—a year older than Budinger—was about to take over.
“That’s how I remember it so vividly because this girl came in—it was an all guys team—and she just destroyed us,” Budinger said. “She was the only girl playing on a guys’ team and was killing every guy out there.”
Fast forward to 2012, and the two San Diego-natives are rejoined in the same basketball market playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx. Both are part of a new era of basketball in this state that is bringing unbridled optimism to fans. While Budinger’s Timberwolves open up the preseason this week as a team hopeful to make a dent in the Western Conference playoffs, Wiggins’ Lynx are beginning their WNBA Finals series against the Indiana Fever this weekend.
Game 1 begins tonight at Target Center, with tipoff at 7 p.m. The game is on ESPN2 and BOB 106.1 FM.
A WNBA championship would be the second straight for the Lynx in this “Road To Repeat” season, something Budinger and his fellow Wolves teammates are following closely. Not only do the two teams share the LifeTime Fitness Training Center facility and the Target Center’s main court, but they share a fan base hopeful to share a special fall, winter and spring with both teams.
Timberwolves players have connected in passing with Lynx players at the training facilities, and a group of Wolves players took in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Seattle before heading off to Training Camp last week. Budinger might be the only one with head-to-head experience on the court with a Lynx player, but he’s not the only one on the roster with an appreciation for what their WNBA counterparts are trying to do.
Ask guard JJ Barea, who won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
“I know how hard it is,” Barea said. “Especially to do it twice, it’s very hard. I’m impressed.”
Barea is one of the Wolves players who has chatted in passing with the Lynx at LifeTime, and he’s one of the Wolves who took in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semis. That night Kevin Love—who got to know Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore while playing for Team USA this summer—bought 500 tickets for fans to attend the game. In Game 3, Ricky Rubio did the same.
On Saturday during the Wolves' first preseason game at Target Center, a collection of Lynx—including Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson, Monica Wright and Erin Thorn—were on hand to return the favor.
Technically sound, talent-laden and deep in coaching expertise, the Lynx’s style of basketball is something the Wolves respect and enjoy. Wolves forward Dante Cunningham has been acquainted with the WNBA for years—his sister, Davalyn, played in the league in the early 2000s. The league is very much set around fundamentals and smart play, and over the past two years no one has done it better than the Lynx. Wolves player development coach Shawn Respert echoed that notion earlier in September.
Even in his short time in Minnesota, Cunningham said he’s felt the buzz around the Lynx squad as they try to become the first repeat WNBA champions since the Sparks in 2001 and 2002.
No question the Lynx’s success is noticed in the Wolves’ locker room.
“You walk around, you see the Road To Repeat,” Cunningham said. “That’s something that’s motivation. Not only for them but for us. As prideful guys, you kind of want that slogan also, so that’s something we’re striving for to kind of get to.”
Across the WNBA, the Lynx have become a model franchise.
They’ve put together back-to-back 27-7 seasons—their 54 wins the second most in WNBA history for a franchise in back-to-back seasons trailing only the Sparks in 2000 and 2001. They are 19-1 at home this season in the regular season and playoffs, and they led the league in points per game, point differential, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, assists per game, assists differential, rebounding and rebounding differential in 2012.
They’re doing all of this as the defending champions, ensuring each night the Lynx are getting the opposition’s best shot.
In this upcoming best-of-5 series against the Fever with the winner taking home the title, another major hurdle still awaits.
Barea said the Lynx have the make up to get it done.
“They really impressed me,” Barea said. “They’re a team. They’re a championship team. They know how to win, so it was fun to watch them.”
If they do bring home the title, Cunningham, Barea and Budinger all said it would be huge for the basketball community in Minnesota.
“That’s just brining the fans together from both sides, the male and the female sides,” Cunningham said. “That’s becoming a great organization all together. It’s just bringing in more fans and just getting this city behind us as best we can. The women are obviously doing their part. We need to pick up the slack.”
Budinger said it’s great for the state.
“Just to have basketball as a winning community, it really brings the fans out to support them and also support us,” he said.
Budinger said he hopes to take in one of the Lynx’s remaining home games in the Finals like some of his teammates did earlier in the postseason. If he does, he’ll get another chance to see Wiggins in action, and if Lynx fans have it their way she’ll make an impact like she did in that middle school game all those years ago.
But the question remains: Will Budinger get a shot at facing Wiggins 1-on-1 with hopes of getting a little redemption from that matchup in their youths?
“I wouldn’t mind that,” Budinger said, smiling. “I think I could maybe take her now.”