72 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann
Jet lag for four starters who traveled across seven time zones a few days earlier contributed to the uneven performance. Lack of practice time for those same starters made for a game with jagged edges.
When it ended Saturday night, the Indiana Fever were stuck with a 72-65 season-opening loss to the Washington Mystics in Conseco Fieldhouse. The Fever couldn't overcome a 37.3 percent field goal mark (25-of-67) and a 35-22 deficit in rebounds.
A night that started with the franchise raising a banner to celebrate last season's Eastern Conference championship ended in disappointment for Indiana's players as well as 9,752 fans.
“Anytime you get beat on the boards 35-22, you're getting outhustled and out-physicaled by a good team,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said, giving credit to a Washington club that went 0-6 against the Fever in last year's regular season and playoffs. “I thought Washington really played well and brought their 'A' game.”
A combined 40 points by Washington's forward tandem of Crystal Langhorne and Monique Currie gave Indiana fits. The Fever's scoring droughts left them fighting from behind most of the game, and Washington put it away with a 10-2 run that resulted in a 13-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
Dunn was forced to limit the minutes of starters Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas, Ebony Hoffman and Tammy Sutton-Brown because of concern about fatigue. All four finished their season in the Turkish League on Tuesday and flew to Indianapolis in time for only one practice with the Fever on Friday. The game tipped at 7 Saturday night, when it was 2 a.m. in Turkey.
It showed. As Dunn pointed out, there was a lack of rhythm offensively and defensively. Catchings and Sutton-Brown led the Fever with 12 points apiece. Douglas added 10.
“Obviously, we know the schemes,” the veteran Douglas said, “but you definitely need a refresher course. We didn't have time for that. It was very evident tonight there was a lack of practice and preparation. It was evident the game was choppy and not very well played.”
Defensively, according to Hoffman, is where the the jet lag and lack of preparation really showed.
“Offense comes and goes, but it was our defense that was really lagging,” Hoffman said. “Rebounds, we weren't in the right spots. Turnovers, we were passing the ball all over the place. We had no timing.”
Hoffman smiled when asked whether her body clock was anywhere near normal.
“At halftime, I didn't know where I was,” she said. “But honestly, it's no excuse. We have to suck it up. We have to overcome it. The league's not going to stop.”
It won't get easier. The Fever were scheduled to travel Sunday morning to Atlanta for a game that night against the Dream.
“We better learn from this game and get better,” Dunn said. “Everybody in this league is very, very good. And we have a mark on our back. We're the hunted.”
-- Fever point guard Briann January scored only three points and was 0-of-8 from the field. “She has to slow down,” Dunn said. “She's going 90 miles per hour and needs to go about 75.”
-- Catchings said Indiana's four players who just returned from overseas will get some rest time following Sunday's game at Atlanta and return to intensive practices later in the week. “When we go back at it, we have to go at it full force and get ready,” she said.
As for her difficulty with jet lag, she added: “This morning I woke up at 3, 5, 7 and finally got up. It's one of those things, it's just going to take time. Hopefully, my body will catch up soon.”
-- Former Indiana guard Tamecka Dixon was honored by the Fever on Saturday night in conjunction with the team's raising of the Eastern Conference championship banner. Dixon, a 13-year veteran and one of the league's original players, retired after Indiana's push last season to the WNBA Finals.
“I didn't know I was going to be honored tonight; I just wanted to be here to support my team,” said Dixon, who traveled from New Jersey. “It's really a great feeling to be recognized like this.”
Dixon was a three-time All-Star and two-time league champion with the Los Angeles Sparks. She averaged 4.1 points for last season's Fever team.
Dixon played in Italy this past winter and plans to return for another season.
“Realistically, maybe I could have played another season (in the WNBA),” she said. “But, then, it was also time to give my body a little rest (from playing year-around.)”
-- With the win over the Fever, the Mystics ended a seven-game losing streak in the series. Indiana still leads 24-12, including 13-5 at Conseco Fieldhouse.
-- In 2009, the Fever lost its home opener and was 0-2 before righting the ship and going on to the WNBA Finals. They won a franchise-record 22 games in the regular season.