For the first time this season the Lynx have been hit with a significant injury, which makes Tuesday’s home game with Atlanta that much more daunting.
Early in the second quarter of Minnesota’s one-sided victory over Phoenix on Sunday, Seimone Augustus rolled her left ankle, eventually leaving Target Center on crutches. An MRI performed Monday confirmed the original diagnosis of a sprain. The good news is Augustus isn’t expected to miss a lot of playing time.
The bad news is that she almost certainly will miss the Atlanta game and could be lost for the short term with the Lynx playing three games in five nights starting Tuesday.
“Could have picked a better week to have it happen,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said wryly. “It’s good that it’s nothing more than a sprain. But it is unfortunate.’’
And it makes Tuesday’s job even tougher.
The Eastern Conference-leading Dream come to town with the league’s best overall record (10-1) and the longest active winning streak (six games). Led by MVP candidate Angel McCoughtry, the Dream has had an impressive bounceback from last year’s dysfunctional disappointment.
The 8-3 Lynx, meanwhile, remain in first place in the West. But the team will have to scramble to keep its franchise-record home winning streak, which grew to 14 Sunday, intact.
Monica Wright, who scored a season-high 17 points Sunday, will move into the starting lineup. Playing alongside Lindsay Whalen more, Wright will play more shooting guard, her natural position. But it puts pressure on the Lynx bench. Rookie Sugar Rodgers — who scored four points and had five rebounds in 15-plus minutes Sunday — will get more playing time.
But, more than anything, the remaining Lynx veterans will have to do more.
“I still have two [U.S.] Olympians and a near Olympian,” she said, referring to Maya Moore, Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson. “And a pretty good player in Janel McCarville. If [Wright] is solid, that helps everybody else. If they’re not ready that puts people like Sugar, Rachel [Jarry] and [Lindsey] Moore in a hornet’s nest environment.’’
Moore rebounded from a mini shooting slump after halftime Sunday, scoring 19 of her 23 points in the second half.
“When somebody goes down, we step up,” Moore said. “We’re confident [Augustus] will return soon. In the meantime, we’re going to do our best to get wins.”
Said Whalen: “We’ll have to do a little more. But nobody has to go above and beyond what their skills are, of course. But [Sunday] you had Maya and Monica stepping up with the scoring.”
Atlanta’s 10-1 start shows the team is over the 2012 season, one that was marred by issues. McCoughtry had a problem with coach/general manager Marynell Meadors, and Meadors was eventually fired shortly after an August loss to the Lynx. McCoughtry was limited to 24 games by injury and by a two-game suspension for breaking team rules.
But under coach Fred Williams — who took over for Meadors last season and was retained — things have turned around. McCoughtry is second in the league in scoring, first in steals and was named the Eastern Conference player of the month for June. Joining her is a strong frontcourt that will get even better with the return of Sancho Lyttle, back after playing with Spain’s national team in the EuroBasket tournament.
The Dream is winning with pestering pressure defense, ranking first in the league in scoring and shooting defense and points off turnovers.
“I think they’re the real deal,” Reeve said. “The sample size is big enough. What they’re doing on defense is impressive. They’re better than last year. They seem to be more cohesive in what they’re doing.”