In late July when Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve first spoke with the media about the acquisition of center Sylvia Fowles, she had two messages to convey: that she was thrilled and appreciative toward Lynx ownership for making the trade ... but that it didn't mean a third WNBA championship was all wrapped up.
After a weeklong stretch -- Aug. 16 to Aug. 23 -- in which the Lynx lost three of four games, Reeve's thoughts were pretty much the same: very glad to have Fowles, the veteran obtained from Chicago, but also aware that the rest of the regular season and playoffs were going to be taxing.
That's unavoidable in a league in which there is considerable talent on several teams and the traveling and scheduling present obstacles that just have to be endured.
"The important thing to remember is the highs are never as high as the lows are low," Reeve said of ups and downs that typically all WNBA teams can experience through the season. "We expect a lot of ourselves. I have players who are very prideful, and we're of a mindset that we control our own destiny. We don't want to complain about the schedule or the time in the airport or lack of time to practice.
"I know it doesn't feel good to go through down times. But I want us to stand in there and face it and be problem-solvers. We're going to continue to be tested, and we'll learn. Then we'll evaluate: 'Did we make any progress?'"
Considering the Lynx (19-9) will enter Friday's game at New York with the best record in the league, one could say that their issues are the equivalent of "first-world problems." But there are reasonable concerns. When a team knows how good it can play and then falls short of that a few times, there is bound to be a little worry.
"Probably half of our issues have been self-inflicted, but the other half is teams bringing their 'A' game against us. We really don't play poorly. It's not for lack of effort." Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve
Since Fowles' first game with the Lynx -- an 82-76 victory over visiting Los Angeles at Target Center on July 29 -- Minnesota has gone 7-5. The losses: Aug. 4 at Los Angeles, Aug. 7 at Phoenix, Aug. 16 at Washington, Aug. 19 at home against Washington and Aug. 23 at Phoenix.
So that's four of the five losses on the road, and the home loss is the game in which Reeve felt the Lynx played their worst. Then she picked up two technicals and was ejected in the most recent loss to the Mercury.
But Reeve has a lot of faith in her system and her players, the core group of whom have been together since Maya Moore was drafted No. 1 in 2011 and have won two titles. She knows they will figure things out as a unit.
"I don't think it's just one thing that has been a problem," Reeve said. "I think our offense at times can put us in a tough situation on the defensive end. The Washington game here at home, the bottom fell out when frustration set in, but that's a good team that was playing us well."
Reeve said much of the time, the Lynx have played very well defensively -- right up to the point of getting a defensive rebound. But then they didn't get it, and got burned by giving up a second chance. Other times, turnovers have come at particularly costly times for Minnesota.
And then there is the pressure that falls on Moore, who was the league MVP last year and is in the running to win that honor again this year. Moore is second in the league to Chicago's Elena Delle Donne in scoring 20.5 points per game. But Moore's shooting percentage from the field (41.9) is the lowest of her five seasons in the league. She was at 50.9 in 2013, and 48.1 last year.
Reeve has done what coaches do: gone to the video and examined the evidence very, very thoroughly.
"I've watched two years' of shots by Maya, to see what's different," Reeve said to get a sense of where Moore's shots have come over a long span of games. "In our three [recent] losses, she shot 26 percent. When Maya is playing MVP-like, we get through tough times even without some other personnel. When Maya struggles, our team struggles.
"The recognition by Maya is a little more that sometimes she wastes energy defensively doing things that aren't producing results. Same thing offensively; she's putting herself in hard situations sometimes. I think as a team, making things easier for ourselves and Maya is important. And getting her some rest when we can is good."
Indeed, Moore has always been a workhorse; she has not missed a single game -- regular-season or playoffs -- in her WNBA career.
Seimone Augustus missed a month after knee surgery and then returned Aug. 14. But after three games back, she was forced out again with a foot sprain. And Augustus is always going to have an impact when she's on court -- and be missed when she's not.
As for Fowles, she's averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds. She's bringing what the Lynx need, but joining a team at midseason -- especially a group of players who know each other so well -- poses some challenges that only time solves.
"I think Syl has been great in terms of just soaking things up and wanting to learn," Reeve said. "But I don't care who you are, when so much is new and everybody else knows the system but you, you're going to have those moments when maybe you're thinking more than just playing.
"But I think those moments are less and less with her and she's getting more comfortable. It takes time to really know your teammates and the nuances of a team."
Ultimately, Reeve also knows that some tough times faced during the regular season are not necessarily a bad thing.
"I don't want us to be so hard on ourselves," Reeve said. "Probably half of our issues have been self-inflicted, but the other half is teams bringing their A-game against us. We really don't play poorly. It's not for lack of effort.
"But I told our team, 'You've got to be battle-tested when you get to the playoffs.' And by the time it's all said and done, we are going to be battle-tested. We will have gone through some stuff together, and it's only going to make us stronger.
"That's if you handle it the right way, and we've got such great leaders, I'm confident we are."