Whalen leads Lynx into playoffs

Lindsay Whalen averages 14.9 points, 5.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

Lindsay Whalen heads to half-court about 90 minutes before every Minnesota Lynx game to meet up with coach Cheryl Reeve.

They quickly go over game plan, mindset, the way they want that evening's matchup to go. It is not a pep talk from Reeve, or a case of a tentative player looking for instruction. It is a consultation, even a collaboration between a head coach who knows where she wants her team to go and the player she knows will get it there.

"I rely on her heavily," Reeve said.

As will the Lynx as they embark on the WNBA playoffs. Minnesota, the West's No. 1 seed which also has home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, hosts Game 1 against Seattle on Friday.

In her 10th season, Whalen has simply never been better. Her scoring and assist averages are both career highs. She has established herself as the WNBA's premier point guard on the league's most consistently successful team over the past three years.

See what a little rest can do for you?

Whalen came home early from what would have been another long season overseas last spring, her season ending abruptly after a contract dispute with her team in Turkey.

In this case, time was a blessing. Whalen returned to Minnesota and had more than a month to spend with coaches, working on her game, letting her body rejuvenate.

It is a rare opportunity in professional women's basketball to have time off that doesn't involve an injury rehabilitation of some kind.

"I ended up with the time off because of an unfortunate situation, but you make the best of it," Whalen said. "I was able to take some time to mentally get away from the game, and physically I was able to take a break.

"I worked on things I haven't been able to work on in years. … That time was really valuable."

And good for her game.

Teammate Seimone Augustus said Whalen is more aggressive than ever. The best scoring numbers of her career back that up.

"She came back refreshed," Augustus said. "It's the difference between a rejuvenated Lindsay Whalen and a tired Lindsay Whalen. But this is her nature. She just wants to get to the line."

Whalen has focused on taking some pressure off Augustus and Maya Moore -- Minnesota's two leading scorers who combined for nearly 35 points per game -- this season.

"They are such great players," Whalen said. "I'm just trying to be smart and make plays when they are there."

Reeve said Whalen's mental toughness is what sets her apart as the point guard begins what is likely the back end of her pro career.

"She has an unbelievable understanding of the game," Reeve said. "Hands down, she is my most mentally and physically tough player. … She's not our best athlete, she's not our best shooter, but [it's] the way she plays the game. There's no better finisher.

"I think she's going to go down as the greatest finishing point guard in the history of the league."

Whalen's arrival in Minnesota in 2010 coincided with the Lynx's rise as the WNBA's best team. Or maybe it was not a coincidence at all.

She arrived in her home state after spending the first few years of her career in Connecticut. She was the local girl made good, beloved in Minnesota, and it was a bit of a weight on her shoulders when she first arrived. The demands of appearances and making herself available were significant, even as Reeve tried to shield her.

"I'm the 'no' person," Reeve said. "But I don't really have to do that for her anymore."

Whalen is settled into her life as a homegrown star. So much so that when Lynx ownership signed her to a three-year extension earlier this month, it was a complete no-brainer.

"It wasn't a hard decision; pretty much, 'Yep, OK, sounds good,'" Whalen said. "I want to be a part of this team and this organization. I'm in a unique situation, and that made it pretty easy."

It was an obvious choice for the Lynx as well, owner Roger Griffith calling Whalen a "franchise cornerstone."

Whalen helped Minnesota win a title in 2011, and it's time for the Lynx to make a run at winning another. No one is more ready than Whalen, even if she thinks that the benefits from her offseason rest might have reached their expiration date.

"It's the end of the season now and everybody has something they are dealing with," Whalen said. "But it's the playoffs, so you put all that away and push through it."