Seimone Augustus calls Diana Taurasi a friend, a sweetheart off the court.

They first met about 17 years ago in an AAU basketball game when Augustus was 10.

Their next meeting will mean a bit more. Two days after winning a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, the Lynx play Phoenix in Game 1 of the best-of-three WNBA Western Conference finals on Thursday night at Target Center.

Augustus is the Lynx's leading scorer. She also will guard Taurasi, who averaged 21.6 points this season in winning her fifth WNBA scoring title.

But then, Taurasi always could score. She was 12 or 13 and had a long ponytail when her team from Southern California crushed Augustus' Tangy Stars from Baton Rouge, La.

"After that game I gained some respect for Diana," Augustus said. "She asked my mom if I could go back to California with her AAU team. [Mom:] 'Like no way, you can't take my daughter.'

"It is all love, her and I," Augustus said. "I know [Diana] is very competitive."

So is Augustus. The three-time All-America from Louisiana State has the third-highest career scoring average in league history at 19.5 points per game behind Cynthia Cooper (21.0) and Taurasi (20.8).

She was first at one time, before Taurasi bumped her hard on a fast break on June 17, 2009, in Phoenix. Augustus went down awkwardly and the Lynx's promising season was over. Augustus had a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She missed the final 28 games.

"A lot of people bring up that injury," Augustus said. "Did she do it on purpose? Things happen. Diana has not been a person out to hurt or harm anyone."

Augustus and Taurasi were teammates on the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "Off the court she is funny, always got somebody laughing, has stories to tell," Augustus said.

There is the other Taurasi, too. Monday, she fouled out against Seattle on a questionable call and went into a tirade. "That is typical Diana," Augustus said. "She is going to go off. ... She is going to let everybody know how she feels throughout the game."

Thursday, it will be Augustus' job to try to irritate Taurasi as much as possible, with a steal here, a block there.

"You can get her upset and she can fall apart," Augustus said, "and you can get her upset and she can go for 50. You never know with Diana Taurasi."

What Lynx players do know about Augustus is that she has changed, become an all-around player.

"I have been in the league quite a long time," 40-year-old Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin said, "and Seimone Augustus has always been considered an offensive mastermind basically, but not so much on the defensive end.

"This year Coach [Cheryl] Reeve met with us and put the onus on Seimone as a veteran to pick up her defensive intensity. Now she wants to guard the best player, and she makes them do something different. She is in their cuts, contesting, rebounding and still has the ability to get a smooth 22 points."

Those points came Tuesday as the Lynx beat San Antonio 85-67. Augustus also held Silver Stars point guard Becky Hammon to 15 points on 5-for-14 shooting.

Taurasi will be a bigger challenge, and not just because she is 6 inches taller. "[Diana] can shoot from anywhere on the court," Augustus said. "She probably has the quickest release of any three-point shooter I have played against."

But Augustus said she is in much better condition and lighter this season than in 2010, when she had abdominal surgery the day before training camp opened.

"I know I can get out there and defend, pressure the ball a little more," Augustus said.

Taurasi, who led the run-and-shoot Mercury to WNBA titles in 2007 and 2009, is not worried. She is excited about her next opponent. "[The Lynx] like to run -- they are not shy," Taurasi said. "So we'll see if we can match their style."

Ha, ha, Diana.