Don’t call it a rematch, but Lynx have a score to settle with Spark

ST. PAUL — Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve no longer thinks about the last-second, 77-76 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks in the decisive Game 5 of last year’s WNBA Finals.

“Other than when people bring it up,” she said with a smile after practice on Wednesday, July 5 at Mayo Clinic Square in Minneapolis. “It’s not at the top of my mind anymore.”

Reeve, however, understands why Thursday’s 7 p.m. game against the Sparks at Xcel Energy Center is being billed as a rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals, even if she refuses to call it that.

“It’s not the WNBA Finals,” Reeve emphasized. “It’s a regular-season game and both teams are jockeying for position, and I’m sure both teams are going to want to win the game.”

Reeve was quick to point out Thursday’s winner won’t be crowned WNBA champion. That will come in a couple of months if the Lynx (12-1) and Sparks (12-3) indeed meet again in the WNBA Finals.

That said, there’s still a lot on the line whenever the two best teams in the WNBA play each other.

“You can’t win the title tomorrow,” Seimone Augustus said. “You can make a statement.”

No doubt the Lynx would likely to be the team to make that statement, especially after waiting an entire offseason, as well as nearly two months of the regular season for another crack at the Sparks.

Augustus said there’s still a “bitterness” that stems from the result of last year’s WNBA Finals.

Her teammates agree.

Yeah,” veteran guard Lindsay Whalen said. “Any time we play a team in the WNBA Finals the year before there’s always a lasting energy that goes with it.”

“It definitely sparks something in us because we did lose to them last year,” added center Sylvia Fowles, pun intended. “That’s always on our mind when we have to go back and face them.”

Fowles has been a star this season, averaging 20.7 points andh 10.1 rebounds per game. That has helped the Lynx establish a rugged identity inside, while also taking some of the pressure off Maya Moore, who still pours in 16.4 points per game.

As for the Sparks, while they’re still led by Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike in the frontcourt, Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims have stepped in and helped uncover some newfound efficiency in the backcourt. That transformation took them awhile to get going this season, but it has clicked as of late, and the the Sparks come to town on a eight-game win streak.

“They have a great team,” Whalen said. “They have great players. They are extremely well coached. I think we have our work cut out for us.”

Fowles said the Lynx are looking forward to this matchup because it serves as a measuring stick for the rest of the season, especially considering the Sparks are so similar to them.

“It’s pretty much us in a different uniform,” Fowles said. “That’s what’s exciting about it.”