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Article updated: 9/14/2012 6:55 PM

Minnesota's turnaround should inspire Sky

By Patricia Babcock

It didn't look like it Tuesday at Allstate Arena, but Minnesota is the best team in the WNBA this season by far.

Just like last season.

The defending champion saw its 11-game win streak snapped by an inspired Chicago Sky team desperately trying to secure the first playoff berth in franchise history.

The Sky earned an 83-70 victory in one of its most impressive efforts of the year. To play well was important, but to do it against Minnesota was the most noteworthy part of all.

Normally the Lynx is a well-oiled machine, having led the league from wire to wire in almost every major statistical category (points, field goal percentage, rebound margin and assists) en route to a league-best 24 wins.

With Olympians Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen, this team is not only stacked, it also has marketable star power.

Former Sky guard Erin Thorn is thanking her lucky stars that she has been given a bird's-eye view. Thorn, a 3-point specialist, played with the Sky from 2009-11. She was picked up by the Lynx in February through free agency.

"I am very lucky, and I'm happy because the people in Minnesota are good people and this is a really good organization," Thorn told me after Tuesday's game. "It's very humbling when a championship team wants someone like me."

Thorn is a valuable role player who has the potential to heat up quickly from long range. That the Lynx recognized that isn't a surprise. This franchise has done a great job in recent years of putting together rosters that have driven its meteoric rise.

The shrewd building of the Lynx should be a lesson and a source of hope for the 12-18 Sky, which will likely retool in the off-season. The Lynx has shown that going from pretender to contender in little more than one year is feasible.

Minnesota missed the playoffs for six straight seasons starting in 2005. In 2010, the front office led a massive overhaul and Augustus was the only starter to keep her spot.

The Lynx added Whalen, arguably the league's best point guard, via a trade that sent guard Renee Montgomery and a draft pick to Connecticut. Montgomery is now a reserve for the Sun.

Forward Rebekkah Brunson, who is averaging a near double-double this season for the Lynx, was picked up before the 2010 season via the dispersal draft from the defunct Sacramento Monarchs.

In contrast, the Sky's pick in that dispersal draft was center Courtney Paris, who was cut before she played a single game here. She returned to the league in 2011, but as a seldom-used reserve.

Still missing a few pieces, the Lynx missed the playoffs in 2010. But it didn't take long for them to find those pieces.

Before last season, the Lynx signed durable 14-year center Taj McWilliams-Franklin through free agency. She's still going strong.

Then Minnesota got lucky and received the first pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft, snapping up Maya Moore, the University of Connecticut forward who is widely considered one of the best players in women's college basketball history.

About four months later, the Lynx won the 2011 WNBA title. Moore was named rookie of the year, Whalen earned first-team all-WNBA honors and head coach Cheryl Reeve was named coach of the year.

Thorn, a 10-year veteran who has never won a title, is hoping to get in on the gravy train. The Lynx will push for a repeat when the playoffs tip off later this month.

"I got to the playoffs when I was playing in New York, but it's been awhile since I've been there so I'm really looking forward to being there again," Thorn said. "I think we have a great chance.

"The biggest thing about why this team is successful is that it is a team. If you look at the names, you know we have Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus and all this star power. But if you look at the box score, it doesn't always look like that because one night it will be Maya, one night it will be Seimone, one night it will be Lindsay Whalen and one night it will be someone else, even somebody from the bench. We're a total team and we work hard every day in practice because we don't take anything for granted."

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

Patricia Babcock McGraw has been covering the Chicago Sky since its inaugural season in 2006. She is also the color analyst for all Sky television games, which are broadcast on Comcast CN100.

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