WNBA Preview 2008:
The 2007 season for the Indiana Fever can best be described in two phases: with Tamika Catchings and without Tamika Catchings. The six-time WNBA All-Star – who led the Fever in scoring (16.6), rebounding (9.0), assists (4.7) and steals (3.1) – suffered two major injuries during the 2007 campaign, thwarting Indiana’s championship expectations.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
With a healthy Catchings leading the way, the Fever raced out of the gates and quickly established themselves as a leading contender in the Eastern Conference. After 20 games, the Fever held a 16-4 record, which is the best 20-game start in the history of the Eastern Conference. Indiana sent a trio or players – Catchings, Anna DeForge and Tammy Sutton-Brown – to the All-Star Game and appeared to be en route to locking up home-court advantage in the WNBA Playoffs.
WHAT WENT WRONG
It was July 20th that doomed the Fever in 2007. In a highly anticipated matchup against the defending champion Detroit Shock, Catchings went down with a tear of her left plantar fascia. The injury sidelined Catchings for the remaining 13 games of the regular season. After losing the Detroit game and the five that followed without their star player, the Fever adjusted and went 5-3 down the stretch to secure the second seed in the playoffs.
Catchings made her return to the court for the opening round series against the Connecticut Sun, which turned into a three-game classic featuring a triple-overtime loss in Game 1 and a WNBA playoff record 22-point comeback in Game 3 to send Indiana to the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit.
The Fever took Game 1 of the Conference Finals on its home floor, but the Shock evened the series in Detroit with a Game 2 win. In the deciding Game 3, Catchings would suffer a torn Achilles tendon in the second quarter and the Fever could not prevail without her as the Shock advanced to the WNBA Finals with an 81-65 win.
Indiana had a busy offseason, with coaching moves, a blockbuster trade and free agent signings that have bolstered the Fever lineup for 2008. Lin Dunn has replaced Brian Winters as the team’s head coach and she has a pair of new assistants in Gary Kloppenburg and Jim Lewis.
The Fever re-signed free agents Catchings, Sutton-Brown and Ebony Hoffman, but saw DeForge depart to Minnesota. Indiana filled DeForge’s spot by acquiring two-time All-Star Katie Douglas from Connecticut in exchange for Tamika Whitmore and a first-round pick. Douglas, an Indiana native, was named to the WNBA All-Defensive First Team the past three seasons and averaged a career-high 17.0 points in 2007.
With Douglas joining Catchings and Tully Bevilaqua, the Fever should rank among the top defensive teams in the league.
The Fever selected Khadijah Whittington in the second round of the 2008 WNBA Draft after trading away their first round pick in the Douglas trade. Indiana also brought in veteran Allison Feaster to give the Fever another long-range shooting threat.
Catchings spent the offseason hard at work on recovering from her Achilles surgery. With her return date still up in the air, the Fever outlook is cloudy for 2008. If Catchings is healthy, Indiana will be among the league’s elite teams and will challenge once again for the Eastern Conference crown. However, if it ends up being a prolonged absence, the Fever will need some of their younger players – including Tan White, Alison Bales and LaToya Bond – to step up until their MVP is able to return.