Thursday's practice marked the first time since last year's WNBA Finals that all five Minnesota Lynx starters suited up on the same court.
Seimone Augustus (right) joined the rest of her Minnesota Lynx teammates on the practice floor Thursday, the first time this season the entire team was on the court together at the same time.
Stacy Bengs / Associated Press
By Phil Ervin
MINNEAPOLIS -- While working her team through situational scrimmage sets Thursday, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve found herself a little wide-eyed.
There was Seimone Augustus, coming off screens on the wing and knocking down that patented pull-up jumper of hers. There was Rebekkah Brunson, taking over in the paint just like she always has. There were Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters, showing no lingering effects from preseason knee surgeries.
"I had to do a double take," Reeve said.
Thursday's practice marked the first time since last year's WNBA Finals that all five Minnesota starters suited up on the same court. Brunson played in her first game Tuesday, and Augustus is listed as probable for Friday night's home tilt against San Antonio.
"We're 24 games into it," Reeve said Thursday after a spirited workout. "This is our first practice that I've had the complete roster out there. That was our first day of the 2014 season."
The timing couldn't be better.
With 10 games remaining, the WNBA's 2011 and 2013 champs are 2.5 back of Phoenix for first place in the Western Conference. Since dropping four of six games in June, the Lynx are 9-2.
And now, as Reeve would say, all of her horses are back.
Augustus' return takes defensive emphasis away from Maya Moore -- not that Moore needs much assistance, as evident in her 48-point outburst in Tuesday's double-overtime victory. Moore, conversely, mitigates pressure on Augustus and will allow her to ease back into the lineup after missing eight games (nine overall) with left-knee bursitis.
Five of Moore's WNBA-record 10 30-point outings have come with Augustus out of the lineup.
That's a double-sided paradigm. Augustus' absence affords Moore more touches. But it also allows defenses to double-team her more often.
"I think it's the same for both of them," Reeve said. "'Mone can benefit a lot from Maya playing as great as she is. Nothing's easy for them."
Brunson's return offers similar avail in the post. No longer is Janel McCarville primarily responsible for clearing out the lane and tearing down rebounds -- both Brunson specialties. Brunson's post-up abilities also allow Reeve to make full use of her offense, which features a lot of high-motion facilitation from McCarville.
In her first game since the Lynx's finals sweep of Atlanta last season, Brunson tallied 17 points and 12 rebounds in 36-minutes.
"That was not the plan," Brunson said of her hefty return workload. "I feel fine. I think everything that I'm feeling was to be expected -- no surprises. Of course, you're gonna be a little bit sore after that, but overall I felt pretty good."
Brunson underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee before the season. Wright and Peters had similar operations, leaving Minnesota three core returners short when training camp commenced.
Peters returned May 30, and Wright came back two weeks later. Peters has proven a reliable backup four when Damiris Dantas needs a breather, and Wright continues to solidify herself as one of the league's top sixth women, particularly on defense.
And that's imperative, because behind those two and Dantas -- who's been moved to the second unit since Brunson's return -- the Lynx possess a short bench. Aside from the starters, Dantas, Wright and Peters, only Tan White averages more than 8.5 minutes per game this season.
Still, they're now deeper than they've been all year.
"You're not trying to kind of piecemeal now," Reeve said. "There's a little more calm to it."
It's an obstacle Minnesota hasn't faced often in reaching three consecutive WNBA Finals. In 2011 and 2012, the core group of Whalen, Moore, Augustus and Brunson missed a combined eight games. Last season, the total including McCarville was six.
By comparison, Brunson alone sat out the first 23 games of the current campaign.
"This team has never gone through what we've had to go through this year," Whalen said. "Every other year, we've had everybody healthy."