It was all part of the plan.
After nine-plus weeks of rehab following surgery on her right thumb, Aerial Powers was ready to return Aug. 21 against Chicago. The Lynx were coming off back-to-back losses in Connecticut. The temptation might have been to put Powers in the starting lineup. Or, at the very least, give her big minutes off the bench. That temptation might have grown two games later, when Layshia Clarendon was lost for a stretch with a right-leg stress reaction.
But Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve stuck to her plan. Powers came off the bench. And, starting in Chicago, with relatively few minutes. She got 14 against Chicago, under 16 against Seattle, 17-plus in wins over New York and Los Angeles.
But the minutes kept growing, and Powers kept edging closer to full speed.
"That was all part of the progression,'' Reeve said. "We felt we needed for her to get her legs back under her. We didn't want to disrupt what we had going.''
Reeve was talking about a five-game winning streak that ended with a one-sided loss in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
But Friday, against Indiana at Target Center, Powers returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the third game of the season.
The result: Powers hit eight of 14 shots, two of three three-pointers and scored a game-high 20 points.
It was her third straight 20-point performance, and her most efficient.
The Lynx are still waiting on Clarendon's return, which is expected but might not come until the playoffs. Damiris Dantas has been lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury.
But Powers' ascension has helped fill the gap, while at the same time providing the Lynx something they haven't had in a while – a player who can create her own shot, a physical wing who plays through contact and can get to the free throw line.
And it's coming at the right time.
"That's what she knows,'' Reeve said. "She does things no other player on our team can do. We're just making sure she plays within herself and not force things. But she knows. She looks around, and she knows she's creative in the way she shoots. That also requires a little more patience from teammates. A lot of times she's got the ball and the ball might stop when it gets to her.''
But, Reeve said, that's OK: "It did with Maya [Moore] too,'' Reeve said. "Not to say she's Maya, but there are some players you have to allow them space.''
In her first four games back, Powers averaged 8.8 points and shot 29.6% overall, 1-for-7 on threes. In the last three? A 20-point average, 56.8% shooting, 6-for-11 on three-pointers while getting to the free throw line nearly five times a game.
"I feel really good,'' Powers said. "Honestly, I've been shooting after every shootaround, after practice every day. I just keep shooting. I know I'm kind of behind in everything. I had two big injuries. The hamstring was like three weeks and the thumb was nine. I had to catch up.''
Powers' return to the starting lineup has helped the bench, too. The Lynx starters and reserves play a very different game. There is more ball movement among the reserves, a style that fits Bridget Carleton, who had been elevated to the starting lineup with all the injuries.
Carleton came off the bench Friday, and she hit both her three-pointers while scoring eight points. Getting 10 points from Natalie Achonwa, five from Rachel Banham (to go with five assists) and four points and seven rebounds from Jessica Shepard, the Lynx bench scored 27 points.
The starters? With Kayla McBride and Powers playing together, the Lynx will get spacing as well as multiple options to take the pressure off center Sylvia Fowles and forward Napheesa Collier.