Renee Montgomery doesn’t take it personally. In fact, she agrees with all those Lynx fans counting the days until Lindsay Whalen returns as the team’s starting point guard — and Montgomery resumes her usual place as the backup.
“I ask her every day, ‘Man, is your hand healed yet? You ready to come back?’ ” Montgomery said with a laugh, as she prepared last Monday for a second week as the surrogate starter. “We’re a different team [without her].”
Whalen had surgery to repair a broken bone in her left hand two weeks ago. In her absence, the Lynx are 1-3, and their once-potent offense is sputtering. They carry their first losing streak of the season into Friday’s game against Indiana at Xcel Energy Center, a two-game stumble that has allowed Los Angeles to creep within two games of the Lynx at the top of the WNBA standings.
Coach Cheryl Reeve expects it will take at least two more weeks — and possibly three — before Whalen will be ready to play. That would put her back on the floor on Sept. 1 at the earliest, for the final two games of a regular season that ends Sept. 3.
Reeve doesn’t expect Montgomery and her backup, rookie Alexis Jones, to try to imitate Whalen’s style of play. She is hoping, though, to see them channel some of her basketball intellect as they try to steady a team whose swagger has suddenly grown wobbly.
“I want Renee to be Renee, and I want AJ to be AJ, in terms of their games,” Reeve said. “But the intangibles Lindsay brings in terms of her toughness, her play calling, her understanding of discipline, time and score, those have to be what Renee and AJ focus on. We’ve got to be more like Lindsay when it comes to that.
“They can play their own game. They don’t have to play like Lindsay, but they have to think like Lindsay. And that’s a tall order.”
Statistically, it’s been a modest season for Whalen. Her 8.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 23.6 minutes per game are all the lowest of her 14-year WNBA career. But she gives the Lynx a combination of direction, energy, savvy and cool that is not easily replaced, a point that has become abundantly clear since her injury.
Whalen has been able to resume some on-court work that doesn’t impact her injured hand, including shooting-form and ballhandling drills. While she mends, she is trying to contribute what she can. At Monday’s practice, Whalen sat on the sidelines, taking detailed notes and chattering nonstop — even as Reeve scolded the rest of the team for failing to communicate. She also has been stationed behind the bench at games.
During Wednesday’s 62-61 loss at Seattle, in her street clothes and a small blue splint, Whalen conferred with coaches as they tried to reset an offense that has stalled without her. The Lynx were the WNBA’s second-highest-scoring team through their first 24 games, averaging 86.2 points. Their past two — the defeat at Seattle, and a 70-64 loss to Los Angeles — were their lowest-scoring efforts of the season.
Against the Storm, the Lynx finished with season lows in points (61), assists (11) and field-goal percentage (33.3). Reeve emphasized that the problems have multiple sources, including improved play by opponents and a lack of attention to detail. But she noted that Montgomery must be able to slow the offense down and regain discipline when needed, and she wants to get the guard more scoring opportunities.
“The point guard position certainly isn’t why we weren’t successful [Wednesday],” Reeve said. “Renee had a good handle on what we were running and why we were running it.
“Right now, she’s trying not to mess up, rather than just playing. We know she can score, and we’ve got to make sure we’re utilizing that. We’ve just got to relax and not overthink things but still pay attention to the details.”
The most difficult adjustment, Montgomery said, has been trying to learn exactly what Reeve wants from her floor leader at various points in the game. She added that communication is paramount as she continues to adjust to an expanded role, with her minutes jumping from 17.8 per game as a reserve to 32.5 as a starter.
“It’s always hard when you lose a point guard,” she said. “We just have to talk things out.”
Maya Moore echoed that point, saying everyone on the roster has a part to play in filling the void left by Whalen’s absence.
“We’re all willing to rise to the challenge,” Moore said. “It’s good for us. It will build up some calluses on our hands to get even tougher for the postseason.”