MINNEAPOLIS (AP) When Lindsay Whalen broke her left hand, the Minnesota Lynx were 20-2 and steamrolling the rest of the WNBA. They went 4-5 in the first nine games without their Olympian point guard, and though Whalen's absence may not have been entirely to blame for the late-season swoon, there were plenty of sighs of relief as she took the court again on Wednesday.
Whalen practiced with the team for the first time since suffering the hand injury that caused her to miss the final 12 games of the regular season. With a week to prepare for the WNBA semifinals, Whalen is planning to be back at full strength and ready to go now that the playoffs are here. The Lynx went 7-5 over that stretch of games and locked up homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
After serving as an extra coach during that time off, Whalen was raring to get back into the action.
''I tried to just help where I could and help in any way and still be a part of the game-day routine,'' Whalen said. ''That's what is the most fun anyways. Now to actually be able to play again will be even more fun.''
Renee Montgomery filled in capably as the starter with Whalen gone. Now that one of their primary leaders is back, the Lynx will be that much stronger with Montgomery running the second unit.
''She's done an unbelievable job keeping herself connected. We had her voice on the sideline and that sort of thing, but there's nothing like having Lindsay Whalen on the floor directing things,'' coach Cheryl Reeve said.
The Lynx have a bye in the first round of the playoffs and are not scheduled to play until Tuesday in the semifinals. That series will be played at Williams Arena on the campus of Whalen's alma mater, the University of Minnesota. With Target Center unavailable to the Lynx this season while undergoing a massive renovation, the Lynx played the regular season at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, home to the NHL's Minnesota Wild. They will play all of their playoff games at the gym affectionately called ''The Barn.''
''I'm excited for everybody that hasn't gotten a chance to play there to experience what it will be like to play in that arena, in that environment in a playoff-type situation,'' Whalen said. ''There's really nothing quite like it.''
Reeve said she noticed no ill effects from the long layoff. Whalen did not use her non-shooting hand quite as often in her first run, but figures to be fully ready to go by the time the playoffs begin.
''At this point, it's being smart and not over-using it right now when you don't have to,'' Reeve said. ''When she had to use it, she did. She was just Lindsay in the types of things that she does.''