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MINNEAPOLIS -- Maya Moore was practically dancing on air as she went to pick up her WNBA championship ring in a pregame celebration Sunday at Target Center.
"Now that I'm a year removed from college," said Moore, the former UConn star, "and have been overseas, I have even more of an appreciation for how good we have it here as far as the fan support.
"I've always loved to celebrate things that need to be celebrated. I smile and dance and have a good time. Then when it's time to get to work, it's full focus. Besides, have you seen the rings? You'd be smiling, too."
|Monica Wright scored 15 points off the bench for Minnesota.|
The large piece of jewelry passed everybody's bling test in a happy Lynx locker room after a 105-83 season-opening victory against Phoenix. Admittedly, it wasn't the Mercury team we were expecting to see this summer.
Penny Taylor has a torn ACL and will be out all season. Diana Taurasi wasn't able to play Sunday because of a hip-flexor strain. She was in Seattle last weekend for USA Basketball's camp and exhibition game against China. When she returned to Phoenix, the Mercury had two practices in a day.
"At that night practice, I knew," Taurasi said of being hurt. "It's just fatigue. Eight months of being in Turkey, grinding, and something's going to give. Been doing rehab two or three times a day. When it's where I think I can't re-aggravate it, I'll be able to play."
She shrugged when asked if it would be better to give herself a little more time off. She then pointed to everyone around the Mercury locker room and talked about their overseas workload, too. And said it was the same situation for the Lynx.
"It's just long years for all of us," Taurasi said. "That's the way it is. The teams that have the most players who can be productive are going to win. It's survival of the fittest."
For many years, no one would have thought of the Lynx as candidates to be the fittest or survivors. Minnesota was the franchise that never seemed to have quite enough talent; the Lynx typically peaked out at "average."
That began to change in 2010, and came fully to fruition in 2011. Minnesota's 27-7 regular-season record and playoff series wins over San Antonio, Phoenix and Atlanta led to the aforementioned ring.
Nine players from last season are back with the Lynx. It so happens that two who are gone -- Charde Houston and Alexis Hornbuckle -- are now in Phoenix. So they got the rings with their former teammates, and then tried to beat them. Houston led the Mercury with 24 points. With Taurasi out, Phoenix needs Houston's scoring even more.
|The Lynx received their 2011 championship rings before Sunday's victory over Phoenix.|
"I'm happy to be in this position," said Houston, who played regularly for Minnesota her first three seasons there but was limited to just less than eight minutes a game in a reserve roll last year. "It's a perfect fit for me [in Phoenix] -- it's fast, it's open. I do like their style."
Or at least what style the Mercury have right now with Tausasi sidelined and some younger players in the mix. Rookie point guard Samantha Prahalis had 12 points and six assists for Phoenix. She and Minnesota's Candice Wiggins got a little on each other's nerves, and Wiggins picked up a technical when she pushed away from Prahalis with a bit too much zest.
It wasn't a big deal, though. The rookie Prahalis started and played more than 30 minutes. Phoenix coach Corey Gaines liked a lot of what he saw from her, regardless of her four turnovers and a few "oh, yeah, this isn't college" moments.
"Someone would be open in the post for a split second," Prahalis said, "but then when I passed it to her, she wasn't open anymore. I just need to get better about the rhythm of the game and get a little bit faster."
That will come for Prahalis. But for a long time, most WNBA ovservers didn't think this kind of day would ever come for the Lynx.
"It wasn't just today, but this whole week," Minnesota's Seimone Augustus said. "There's been that buzz around. We got to enjoy the moment with the fans, and that made it even better."
However, Augustus got a little too close to the crowd in the second half of Sunday's game: While trying to save a ball from going out of bounds, she tumbled ribs-first into a seat.
She was wincing in pain when she walked off court with a trainer and didn't play the rest of the game. She still finished with 19 points and five rebounds in nearly 24 minutes of action. Asked if she thought she'd be able to play Minnesota's next game, Tuesday at New York, Augustus said, "Most definitely. This will not hold me out."
|Seimone Augustus led the Lynx with 19 points, despite leaving with a rib injury in the second half.|
The fact that Minnesota didn't struggle when Augustus was sitting reaffirms that the Lynx's bench -- strong last year -- is perhaps even better this season.
Five other Lynx players besides Augustus scored in double figures. Moore and Lindsay Whalen each had 13 points and Rebekkah Brunson 12 for the starters. Monica Wright (15) and Wiggins (11) led the reserves, with Jessica Adair scoring nine.
"My first thought of them is, 'They're really deep,'" Taurasi said of the Lynx. "You take Seimone out and bring in Monica Wright, who with other teams would be a starter. You have Candice Wiggins. You have Adair. I mean, whew.
"I hope when we get to a point where we get all our pieces right and healthy, we can have that many people have an impact on the game."
That won't be easy, though, especially since Taylor isn't going to be an option for this season. But it's not just the Mercury who'll have trouble countering all of Minnesota's weapons. That will be problematic for all other teams.
"Offensively, I felt everybody was effective," Augustus said. "We got the shots where we wanted them."
Indeed, as Minnesota shot 57.1 percent from the field (44 of 77). Even in the best of times, Phoenix isn't exactly known as a lockdown defensive team. And, again, the Mercury weren't close to their best Sunday. Still, it was an impressive show from Minnesota and exactly what the Lynx hoped to see.
"It's really about being efficient every day," said Moore, last season's WNBA rookie of the year. "You continue to find all the little things you can do to get better. It's a lot of the same stuff that we did last year. It's just staying focused on that. Every day, there will be things coming at you to distract you or keep you from doing that extra work you should.
"You've got to say, 'No, I'm not going to take a break.' You have to stay hungry that way, because we don't have that, 'let's win it for the first time' hunger anymore. It's got to be a new motivation."