Lindsay Whalen, at 32, can see the big picture.
Both on the court, as the player recently named the best point guard in the league by WNBA general managers, and off.
She knows she and her Lynx teammates are about to get a second crack at an opportunity many never get. She knows there is history out there, ready to be made.
“There are reasons you do this,” Whalen said after a recent practice, talking about the game of basketball she plays nearly year-round.
The Lynx open the WNBA season Friday in Washington, looking to become the first back-to-back champions since Los Angeles in 2002.
“You do it for the next generation, you try to advance the game,” she said. “But you’re also working hard for the people who paved the way for you. So, to be mentioned with those teams would be amazing. But that’s a big-picture thing. It’s the short term that counts.”
In 2012 the Lynx, defending league champs, stormed their way into a second consecutive finals only to lose to Indiana. That loss proved to be the rallying point of last year’s title team.
So here they are again. With essentially the same core group, with U.S.Olympians Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Whalen leading the way, this group gets a second chance to repeat. And the memory of that 2012 season is now the fuel.
There are already some unexpected barriers. All-Star forward Rebekkah Brunson is out at least two months following knee surgery. Top backups Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters are out at least a couple weeks following knee surgeries, too.
But their core is back, determined.
“That time in 2012 will stick with us until we retire,” Moore said. “That will be motivation.”
‘Vibe wasn’t perfect’
On one thing there is consensus. Things were never quite right in 2012.
Even when the Lynx started the season 10-0, there were rumblings. The defense wasn’t quite right. They could rebound better. The vibe wasn’t right.
“It wasn’t complacency,” coach Cheryl Reeve said of 2012. “They worked really hard. … The vibe wasn’t perfect.”
Perhaps there was a veteran reserve or two who chaffed at their small role. And nobody will admit it, but the three Olympians likely came back from London with gold medals and some fatigue.
Whatever it was, by the time the Lynx reached the finals, they weren’t focusing on the right things. Combine that with a peaking Fever team and the result was disappointment.
“It’s all the mental part of it,” Augustus said. “Why it never switched on to get us to the point where we needed to be, I have no idea. But look at us now, and you can see it. The intensity level is higher than it was in 2012 because now we know the sense of urgency we need to have.”
The Lynx won 27 games in both 2011 and 2012, and 26 last season. They have been to three finals in a row, winning twice.
And now, a second chance: “We’re all a couple years older,” Whalen said. “We’re more experienced. ”
It won’t be easy. Western Conference rivals Los Angeles and Phoenix are better. The rest of the conference is healthier, deeper.
And the Lynx are shorthanded. Rookies Damiris Dantas and Asia Taylor will have to fill in for Brunson, the team’s defensive leader and top rebounder.
The rest of the Lynx starters will have to do more.
They already have. Usually the team’s stars get back from a taxing overseas season and ease themselves into training camp. It wasn’t like that this year.
“They raised the bar to another level,” Reeve said.
Because getting a second chance at this is rare. Why waste it?
“We have to change our mind-set from being hungry to get [a title] to being hungry to keep it,” center Janel McCarville said. “Bringing another championship back to Minneapolis would be great.”