A battle of WNBA extremes at Madison Square Garden

For Cheryl Reeve and the Minnesota Lynx, 2016 has been about returning to form after a rare mediocre offensive season last year. For Bill Laimbeer and the New York Liberty, 2016 has been about building on one of the finest defensive campaigns in league history.

Exactly what it will all reveal Tuesday night when the Lynx face the Liberty at 8 PM EST may not be fully established for some time.

Or as Reeve put it in a conference call ahead of the game, “Offense like ours, defense like theirs, the meeting will be somewhere in the middle.”

Still, with the small sample caveat, it looks like Reeve’s ability to coach Sylvia Fowles, Renee Montgomery and the returning Lynx through a full preseason is paying off. After posting a 101.3 (points per 100 possessions) offensive rating in 2015—good for fourth in the league, but well off the team’s typical mark throughout the Reeve Era—they are back at 106.5 so far this season.

“”It’s refreshing to get back to the level of offense we’ve demonstrated,” Reeve said. ” Our lowest offensive rating last season made that change, definitely, top of mind for us. We know we needed to be more efficient, which comes from better utilization of personnel, allowing us to get easier shots. We learned a lot from last season.

“We also place a premium on those ratings—so we want to find a way to keep them where they are.”

As for the Liberty, a defense that finished 2015 with the best defensive efficiency of any WNBA team since the 2007 Indiana Fever—94.2 points per 100 possessions—is even stronger so far this year, checking in at 91.6 through four games.

Tina Charles. (Getty Images)
Tina Charles. (Getty Images)

“Yes, I do think we are better than last year,” Laimbeer said during a pregame conference call. “I think last year we had new faces, significant participants with new faces—Tanisha Wright, for instance—significant to our overall success.. Our field goal percentage against, so far, is historic. Now, I assume that pace is not sustainable. But I think overall we are better defensively. Now, is this level sustainable? Probably not, but our defense gives a chance to win every game.”

Wins have been in relatively short supply of late for the Liberty, who lost a pair of overtime contests to the Sparks and Dream to land at 2-2 so far this year. Still, there’s every chance the unblemished Minnesota Lynx will leave The Garden with their first loss Tuesday night.

“It’s a clash of two worlds in this game,” Laimbeer said. “Our defensive prowess against their execution. And it’s going to be a war of attrition for us over 40 minutes.”

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