Reinforcements are on the way for the Minnesota Lynx in the thick of their playoff chase.
Two-time WNBA All-Star forward Napheesa Collier is set to make her 2022 W season debut at Target Center tonight for the Lynx — currently 10th in the standings and 1.5 games back of a playoff spot — against the No. 7 seed Atlanta Dream, who are half a game up on the No. 8 seed Phoenix Mercury.
Collier is returning to the court just 10.5 weeks after she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Mila, back on May 25. She set a goal of coming back to make one final run with her beloved teammate Sylvia Fowles, with whom she shares an especially close relationship, and Collier will achieve that goal tonight.
“It’s been awesome to play with Syl. She’s one of my favorite people ever. Everyone has seen how amazing Syl is on the court, dominating for how many years she has in this league is absolutely unbelievable. She is a Hall of Famer and so to learn from her basketball wise has just been so, so amazing,” Collier said on May 4 during a press conference announcing her three-year maximum contract extension with the Lynx.
“She was the first person that took me under her wing when I came to the Lynx. And even though this is her last year, I know that she’s going to be a permanent fixture in my life, no matter that we’re not playing together anymore. And she’s someone that, you know, I know I can go to for anything. So I love me Mama Syl.”
The All-W performer averaged a career-high 16.2 points on 44.1/25.3/86.0 shooting splits, 6.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists to 2.3 turnovers, and career-highs in steals and blocks (1.3 each) per game across 29 contests (all starts) last season for Minnesota.
The team announced that starting guard Aerial Powers will miss tonight’s game with a left knee injury. Powers first appeared on the team’s status report last night as probable, while Collier has since been upgraded after initially being ruled out.
Collier’s activation came as a surprising one, considering Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve said yesterday after her team’s practice that Collier “will definitely not play Sunday.”
“No she’s not ready for that,” Reeve told the Star Tribune. “That wouldn’t be right. Wednesday, if everything goes well, we’ll see how her body is feeling, just see where she’s at.”
This is huge news for Phee who wanted to get back on the court with Syl before she retired. We expect to learn more pregame from Reeve but she she said this yesterday to media after Phee’s first and to date only full practice (from @StribSports) https://t.co/mVynViYaNN pic.twitter.com/EYqXX5v1w5— Sloane Martin (@SloaneMartin) August 7, 2022
With four games left to play, the Lynx have the second-toughest remaining schedule of the five teams still fighting for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds, and tied for the fewest games left to make a push, so Collier’s return couldn’t have come at a better time.
They face No. 7 Atlanta tonight in Minneapolis, travel to Phoenix on Tuesday for a Wednesday night matchup with the No. 8 Mercury, and then close with Fowles’ final regular season home game on Friday against No. 4 Seattle, and a trip to Connecticut for a matchup with the No. 3 Sun next Sunday on the regular season’s final day.
Minnesota has a 26% chance of making the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight, but tonight will be a good opportunity to greatly improve those odds.
Atlanta will be without one of its offensive engines in Tiffany Hayes, as well as Monique Billings and Kristy Wallace, plus its players out for the season in AD and Nia Coffey. If the Lynx take care of business, they will own the tiebreakers over the Dream, Mercury, and New York Liberty, the three teams ahead of them in the standings. That means that if they tie with any of those teams for the No. 8 seed, the Lynx will make the playoffs.
How much Collier is able to play is yet to be determined, but her return is undoubtedly an enormous shot in the arm for a Lynx team desperately fighting to get into the playoffs and give Fowles such a richly deserved chance to go out with a ring.