Latest Lynx setback: Sylvia Fowles sidelined by more knee problems

Just when it seemed the Lynx were working themselves back to full health, the bad news:

Center Sylvia Fowles aggravated her right knee injury during Tuesday’s loss in New York, will miss Friday’s game with Washington at Target Center, and could be out a week or two.

This just as point guard Moriah Jefferson and forward Damiris Dantas are expected to return to action Friday.

Lynx coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve said Fowles experienced some soreness and swelling in the knee earlier this season, but it got worse Tuesday. It happened late in the second quarter, after Fowles had consecutive offensive rebounds, ultimately being fouled. Fowles finished the half and played five-plus minutes into the third before leaving the game for good.

“Surgery isn’t required at this point,” Reeve said after an MRI revealed a cartilage injury. “We’ll do some things to help Syl.”

Meanwhile, Jefferson appears ready to return after missing three games with a quad injury. For Dantas, it is the end of a much longer layoff. She suffered a Lisfranc injury in her right foot on Aug. 31 of last season. Friday could mark her first action in nearly 10 months.

Reeve said the team is still working through how much Dantas — a “stretch four” whose three-point shot is much-needed by the Lynx — will be able to play right away.

“It’s not 30 minutes,” she said. “We will have to bring Damiris along and I’ll work closely with Chuck [Barta, the team’s health and performance director].”

But, without Fowles, there is a good chance Reeve will start Dantas in a two-forward attack along with Jessica Shepard, then complete the lineup with Jefferson, Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers.

Without Fowles the Lynx offense will look different.

During their 3-9 start the Lynx are third in the league at percentage of points coming in the paint (46.1), first in percentage of points coming from the free throw line (22.6) but 11th in threes attempted and made per game.

That should change.

As guard Rachel Banham said, without Fowles the Lynx offense will look “bubblesque.”

What she means is an offense much like the one the Lynx ran in the WNBA bubble during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. That year Fowles injured a calf muscle and appeared in only seven of 22 games. Essentially she missed all but six games, playing for just over a minute in the seventh.

With Fowles on the court that year the Lynx averaged 5.5 three-point makes and 19.5 attempts, shooting 28.2%. Without her the Lynx averaged 9.3 threes made per game, attempting 22.3 and shooting 41.9 %. The team was third in offensive rating that season (106.7) and finished a surprising fourth in the standings.

“Without Syl we will be more wide open,” Reeve said. “We will shoot more threes, with Dantas’ return, with Moriah’s return. With a more aggressive Bridget Carleton, you’ll see more assertiveness there. We won’t be as good in the paint. But it will be a little more open in the paint for players like Powers or [Evina] Westbrook. It will be interesting to see how we change identity-wise.”

The team’s three best three point shooters in 2020 were Banham, Carleton and Dantas.

Jefferson said her time watching the team from the bench was beneficial. Still adapting to her new team, she said she was able to see what did and didn’t work and to learn more about her teammates’ strengths.

“It helped me, understanding the offense,” Jefferson said.

Getting Carleton back to her 2020 form would be a big plus. Carleton shot better than 45% from three while averaging 6.6 points. Thursday Reeve said she is pushing Carleton — who has emerged as one of Team Canada’s best players in international play — to be more aggressive.

“When she plays for Canada she runs around and is aggressive,” Reeve said. “And here she acts too much like a role player. This is not a team that needs Bridget Carleton to be a role player.”

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