Behind the scenes with the Lynx
MINNEAPOLIS -- Ten and a half hours before tipoff of Game 2 of the WNBA Finals between the Minnesota Lynx and the Indiana Fever and Target Center is already humming.
Crews have been in the arena all night, changing over the floor and rearranging the rooms in the hallways, transitioning from Tuesday night's Minnesota Timberwolves preseason game to the Lynx.
Leather couches are being moved into the coaches' dressing room, folding chairs on carts being shuttled about.
It's game day, and there's a lot to do.
Guard Lindsay Whalen is the first Lynx player in the building, followed two minutes later by reserve guard Erin Thorn.
About 15 minutes later, post Amber Harris comes shuffling down the hallway, trailed by Jessica Adair, who is still wearing her slippers.
Awake yet? "Not yet," Adair replied. "Ten more minutes."
Taj McWilliams-Franklin rolls in wearing a pink knit cap; Seimone Augustus is sporting her favorite red Vans slip-ons with the Hawaiian print.
Candice Wiggins has a large sequined bag slung over her shoulder. "It's my disco ball," she said, ducking into the locker room to change.
Maya Moore comes down the hall, chatting with the operations workers. "Keep it going," one of them tells her.
Rebekkah Brunson is the last Lynx player to arrive, at 9:08, coffee in hand.
The players are talking and laughing as they settle in, comparing correspondence from a fan who claims he is a coach and has sent each player notes on what he thinks they can improve.
Augustus comes out of the locker room, bagel on a plate, and head across the hall into the training room to get taped for shootaround.
The team goes into the locker room for its first film session of the day. A large HDTV sits in the front of the room, the players' lockers forming a "U" shape around the screen and the white board.
Team staff members bring in a stack of heating pads for the players, who are checking their game notes before coach Cheryl Reeve gets started. The heating pads, wrapped in towels, will warm up their muscles before the shootaround.
The coaching staff, led by Reeve, makes its way up the ramp to the locker room. Reeve pounds the door as a good-natured warning that she's coming in, checks the time, then goes in and closes the door.
The Lynx emerge and briskly make their way to the floor for shootaround, several players racing to see who gets there first.
As the players stretch with the Lynx conditioning coach, chatting away as they lay on the floor extending limbs in every direction, Reeve shoots jumpers at the other end of the floor and takes her share of ribbing about the misses.
With the ESPN broadcast crew in the corner taking notes, Minnesota begins to run some of its offensive sets. Reeve and assistant coach Jim Petersen play defense in the post, Reeve tangling with Whalen on a few plays.
McWilliams and Thorn are still wearing heating pads on their backs as they move around the floor.
The one-hour session ends with a half-court shooting contest -- something of a team tradition -- with no one hitting a shot in the first round. Moore is so far off in her two attempts that she hides her face in mock-shame.
Whalen hits her second try, and for the third straight session, she's the Lynx that ends the contest. The players stick around for a short media interview session.
Players and coaches now get a break until they return for the game.
Harris has a simple pregame routine. "Sandwich and sleep," she said.
Thorn is also heading home, but she'll be resting with her DVR, watching Tuesday night's "Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars" elimination episode and maybe "Castle" if she doesn't fall asleep.
Rookie Devereaux Peters is making herself her usual pregame mid-day meal -- breakfast.
"Some scrambled eggs, maybe some pancakes," Peters explained.
"That's brunch," Harris said.
"No, it's breakfast for lunch," Peters said.
McWilliams-Franklin, who turns 42 on Saturday, claims she doesn't have a routine. She doesn't believe in it.
"Then you are relying on doing the same thing to get yourself ready and it stagnates you," McWilliams-Franklin said. "I do something different before every game. Sometimes, I might watch a movie, I might go shopping, I might go visit somebody. I just don't want to make it about what I did before the game. Because it's not."
Whalen is on the other end of that spectrum. She's so set in her ways that McWilliams-Franklin helps her recite her routine.
"I will shower, then ice and then make some eggs and bacon, maybe a peanut butter and jelly and some fruit," Whalen said. "Then I'll take a nap and get up about 3 and have a little fruit with granola. And a little coffee, which just helps wake you up a little."
The coach has her own rituals.
Game-day lunch at either Cuppa Java or Panera Bread, usually soup and a sandwich.
"Egg salad on pumpernickel with a little tomato," Reeve said.
When she gets home, she'll take her two dachshunds for a walk and then relax either with a nap or -- she looks mildly reluctant to add this last part -- "or I'll watch the 'Young and the Restless' I have saved on my DVR."
Augustus and McWilliams-Franklin are the first players to arrive back at Target Center.
Augustus is usually the first one on the premises on game days at home. She wants time by herself in the training room to watch film, get treatment and prepare. On this day, she came with her veteran teammate, joking that McWilliams-Franklin "made me late."
McWilliams-Franklin heads into the training room with her book, by author Kathy Reichs, whose work inspired the series "Bones." It's one of three she's reading at the moment.
"I hate when books end so I always have a few going at a time," McWilliams-Franklin explained.
As other Lynx players arrive at the arena and park in the loading dock adjacent to the court, an ESPN camera crew films their stroll down the hallway.
Whalen arrives and is fronted by two camera crews as she walks, answering questions about the game. After the cameras move away, she smiles.
"Well, that was easily the most awkward part of my day," Whalen cracked, showing off the new scarf she bought Tuesday. It is getting to be scarf season in Minneapolis. No one knows that better than Whalen, the Minnesota native.
Wiggins comes toward her camera crew greeting sporting sunglasses.
"Like it? It's the whole point of the outfit," she said.
Thorn and Monica Wright have a ritual. They like to get out on the court about 15 minutes before their teammates do and go through their own routine.
There are times when, if they are in a city with easy access to the arena, they will take a taxi instead of the bus to get there early.
Thorn and Wright make their way out to the floor at 4:40, then sit and wait, watching the ball kids shoot baskets. They don't start a second before the digital clock reads 4:45.
"That's just the way we do it," Wright said, humming "Call Me Maybe" and wondering when the music is going to start.
As soon as the clock changes, they are on their feet and on the floor.
Augustus emerges from the training room nearly 90 minutes after she went in, just moments before Reeve comes in, pulling two roller bags.
Which place did she end up for lunch?
"Oh, I can't talk about that," she said with a smile before going into the coaches' lounge.
The Lynx post players begin their pregame warm-up on the floor. The guards will following in about 15 minutes.
While most of the Minnesota players are on the floor, one is staying back in the locker room, where NBA TV is on the big screen, talking about Kevin Love's broken hand, an injury that has now cast a serious pall over the start of the Timberwolves' season.
McWilliams-Franklin is cleaning out her locker, clearing her mind.
She sits out the warm-up in the interest of energy conservation.
"I've been doing this for about 10 years," she explained. "I do it overseas, too, and they don't like it, but
"This is how you play 40 minutes at 42. The young kids, they need to get out there, get rid of that nervous energy. I don't have that. I only have a little energy, period."
Locker cleaned, she sits down and paints some green stripes over her already gold-glitter fingernails.
"It gives me something to do," McWilliams-Franklin said, estimating that she has more than 600 bottles of nail polish at home.
A group of Lynx and Fever players come down the hall and into the hockey locker room where the postgame news conference will be held. It is also serving as ESPN's make-up room, and for the next 10 minutes as a chapel, where the players will pray for a short time before the game.
The players emerge from chapel service and head out to the court to stretch. Reeve goes into the locker room to begin making her notes on the white board, the basis of her pregame speech.
The Lynx are back in the locker room, changing out of warm-ups and into full uniforms, getting settled for Reeve's pregame speech.
Reeve moves in front of the television and opens by reminding her players that they are the team that had the best record in the league this season.
"Let's put the story back on us," she said to the players, who are listening intently. "We are the team that's been the best damn team in the league this year. We are the show."
She talks offensive and defensive priorities and then simply tells her team to "be who we are" before calling them to the center of the room for a cheer.
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