September 2, 2010
It's always tough when a season comes to an end. Especially when it ends earlier than anticipated. And that's the story in 2010 for the Indiana Fever.

After last year's five-game WNBA Finals loss to Phoenix, a repeat of an Eastern Conference title seemed to be in the cards for a veteran Fever team. But thanks to New York's acquisition of do-everything guard Cappie Pondexter, Indiana's season ended in the first round Wednesday night with a 77-74 Game 3 loss at Madison Square Garden.

Pondexter proved her MVP worthiness with a 30-point performance, including seven important points in the fourth quarter. Her shot to give NY the lead for good at 76-74 with 22+ seconds was simply short of amazing. Shot clock winding down, pretty good Fever defense and Cappie scores from behind the backboard.

This was a road game Indiana should have won. The Fever got the usual solid performance from Tamika Catchings (21 points) and Katie Douglas responded with 24-point effort after going scoreless in Game 1 at MSG. But Catch and Katie combined for just two points in the fourth quarter and that is where the Fever lost the game.

All year long, the ability to close games in the fourth quarter hurt this team. It started early in the season and continued with the final game of the playoffs. Indiana lost eight games in 2010 after leading after three quarters. The final game followed the season-long script. Just 3-14 from the field and some critical turnovers offset a pretty good defensive effort in the final 10 minutes. But you can't stop NY, and especially Pondexter, on numerous possessions and then score 8 fourth quarter points.

While the Fever suffered fourth quarter woes all season long, they can point to the end of the regular season and why the season is over so soon. Home court advantage is crucial in a short series, and the Fever failed in the last week of the regular season to hold on to first place. Giving NY home court advantage in the first round was the downfall. That's why the season ended so soon. Indiana has never won a playoff series without homecourt advantage. They've won every playoff series with homecourt advantage.

With that said, Indiana should have won Game 3 Wednesday night. They played very well for three quarters on the road in a tough environment. MSG was filled with 16,000+ fans and the Fever led after each of the first three quarters. But tight games usually come down to a few plays. The Fever had three good three-point attempts in the fourth that could have given them a cushion down the stretch. And late, Catchings missed a couple of drives to the hoop, the last with less than 10 seconds that should have been called a foul. Television replays confirmed the missed call, but you can't rely on officials to win the game. It should have never gotten to that point. Indiana should have been playing with the lead, not trying to tie the game.

So what to make of the season? The Fever has created expectations with six straight trips to the playoffs and five 20+ win seasons since 2005. A disappointment? Probably, but still another solid year of Fever basketball. Great crowds at Conseco Fieldhouse, better appreciation from the Indianapolis community and a great product on the floor produced another enjoyable time with Indiana's "Girls of Summer". Hard to believe but my 11th year with the franchise has come and gone. Now a brief break, my fifth Indiana Pacers season on TV and then next May I'll be back in the saddle for year 12 in 2011.

Finally, what about my thoughts on the rest of the playoffs? Even though Seattle is unbeaten at home and swept Phoenix 5-0 in the regular season, I think the Mercury will return to the WNBA Finals. It will make for great TV when New York wins the East and Pondexter goes head-to-head with the team she won two titles with. Pondexter vs. Diana Taurasi. Phoenix vs. New York. Yes, I'll watch and so will a lot of fans. Last year's Indiana/Phoenix finals series might have been the best in league history. The finals in 2010 could again take the WNBA to a new level.

ugust 30, 2010

With their collective backs to the wall on Sunday night, the Indiana Fever protected home court and stayed alive in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series with New York, knocking off the Liberty 75-67 at Conseco Fieldhouse. The series is now tied at 1-1 and both teams have had 20-point leads on their home court. Now the Fever will look to do something they have never done in their first six trips to the playoffs: win a series while not holding home court advantage.

It will be a tough assignment, but not impossible. Indiana over the years has had great success at Madison Square Garden. Before losing on August 17 and then in Game #1 of this playoff series, the Fever had won four straight and seven of nine in New York. But all of those games before this year were against a Liberty team without Cappie Pondexter. She makes a huge difference for this Liberty team.

She was not a difference maker early Sunday night. The second-half energy the Fever lacked in Thursday night’s 85-73 Game #1 loss to the Liberty reappeared Sunday night. Indiana’s Game #2 start was strong. They jumped on New York, leading 21-8 after the first quarter and leading by 12 at halftime. The key to the game was the start of the third quarter. Indiana scored the first nine points and led by 21 before New York would score in the third 10 minutes. That would prove to be huge because for a fifth straight game, the Fever struggled in the fourth quarter.

Fortunately, the Fever had an 18-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. They lost an 11-point fourth quarter lead to Minnesota in the final home game, and this one could have been interesting if New York made a few more shots down the stretch. The Fever have been outscored 40-25 in the fourth in the two playoff games, and 120-71 in the five games starting with the 78-57 loss to the Liberty in New York on August 17. That started Indiana’s four-game losing streak, and the Fever need to return to the fourth quarters that saw them outscore Connecticut and Phoenix twice by a combined 89-46 count in the final 10 minutes during it’s second five-game win streak of the year.

Can the Fever win this series? Absolutely. But they still have to play more consistent. Turnovers, especially the unforced ones, continue to be a problem and you can’t afford to have those in an elimination game. The Fever finally out-rebounded New York Sunday night (41-36) after three straight games of double-figure deficits. But the Fever still gave the Liberty too many offensive rebounds and second chance points. New York had 13 more offensive rebounds and are averaging that many in their last four games against the Fever.

The Fever defense was more like what we are used to seeing. On a night when Tamika Catchings was named WNBA Defensive Player of the Year for a fourth time, the Fever forced the Liberty into 37% from the field, 31% in the first half. Catchings (17 points) grabbed 13 rebounds and had her eighth double-double of the year, and her 15th in 30 career playoff games.

Pondexter got off to a rough start, hitting 3 of her first 12 shots. But she finished strong, hitting five of her final 10 and scored a game-high 24 points. She will be tough to contain on Wednesday night, and so to will be Essence Carson. After one...yes one double figure game in the regular season...Carson has hit the Fever for games of 17 and 20 points. It reminds me of what Shavonte Zellous did in a Detroit uniform last year against the Fever in the Eastern Conference Finals. Shavonte had 23 and 19 in the first two games last year, and just 3 in the third. Let’s hope Carson follows suit Wednesday at MSG.

Hurting Indiana in recent games had been the trio of Leilani Mitchelll, Nicole Powell and Taj McWilliams-Franklin. They combined for 28 in Game #1 and 43 on August 17. They scored just seven points Sunday night on a combined 2-16 from the field.

Now all of the above has moved into the history category. It all sounds good to rehash, and while some of the above may even have an impact on Wednesday night, most games take on a look of their own. Most will expect New York to win on its home court. I expect Indiana to battle and make a little history of its own. Win a series by winning the clinching game on the road. It’s never been done. By Indiana. Until Wednesday night.

August 24, 2010
For a sixth consecutive year, the Fever are in the playoffs. What a remarkable period of time its been. Only Seattle, with seven straight post-season appearance, has a longer current streak. And the Fever have done something only two other franchises have done. Enjoy five 20+ win seasons in a six-year period. The great Houston and LA teams of the late 90’s, early 2000s accomplished that feat in the early years of the WNBA.

With that said, those numbers don’t mean a thing when it comes to Indiana’s first-round Eastern Conference showdown with New York. You could also say that about how the Fever ended the regular season with three straight losses. That happened one other time this season following five straight wins. But the losing streak was followed by another five-game win streak. I think all Fever fans would take that because Indiana would enjoy a 1-0 advantage in the WNBA Finals.

While the Fever have made a name for themselves by playing good, hard-nosed defense, it still will come down to shooting the ball and having consistent offensive play in the post-season. The numbers bear that out. In the last six losses, the pair of three-game losing streaks, Indiana failed to shoot better than 40% in all six games. Indiana had at least one quarter in each game at 30% or below from the field, and usually added a number of turnovers that kept the offensive production low. The Fever have relied more on offense this year than in their 2009 run to the WNBA Finals. Maybe the defense isn’t quite as good, but the offense at times has been much better. It’s been the consistency that has come and gone for the Fever this year.

Take the final week of the season as an example. Indiana played a spectacular fourth quarter to rally from a four-point deficit to win at Connecticut. At San Antonio, the Fever rallied in the third quarter to tie the game starting the fourth. A 10-0 run by the Silver Stars squashed any thoughts of a comeback win. Then on Sunday in the season finale against Minnesota, the Fever blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead with an assortment of missed shots, missed free throws and careless play.

All these things are correctible, and I think with a solid couple of days of practice, the Fever will be ready to defend their Eastern Conference crown. This team really hasn’t had a good practice in three weeks. The schedule, especially being on the road for 13 of 15 days the last two weeks, really didn’t dictate it. That’s not an excuse, that’s reality. We’ve seen what a fresh Indiana team is capable of. And I like the playoff schedule for Indiana in the first round.

Indiana and New York could play three games but will always have two days between games in the first round. I think this helps Indiana. I also think the new 1-1-1 format helps the Fever. Even though the Fever don’t have home court advantage, they can approach this series like they have in the old 1-2 format. The pressure is on New York to protect home court. To win the series, Indiana needs to win just one game at Madison Square Garden. Until losing last Tuesday night, it’s been a “Garden” party for the Fever in NYC. The Fever have won seven of the last ten including a number of overtime games.

Now Indiana isn’t a lock to win at Conseco Fieldhouse, but I like their chances. A 15-game win home streak over the Liberty ended on August 3, and the Liberty do have Cappie Pondexter in the lineup in 2010. I know the Fever faithful, who have been superb in the 2010 regular season, will return to post-season form starting Sunday night at 8.

This should be a great playoff series. All four playoff teams in the East were 9-8 on the road. Don’t expect to just hand the game to the home team. The higher seeded teams won’t necessarily advance.

What does Indiana have to do to beat New York? Well, you have to contain Pondexter. That doesn’t mean from scoring. That means from getting in the paint and distributing the ball. Indiana beat the Liberty at MSG when Cappie scored 40. They have lost the last two when New York spread the floor and Leilani Mitchell and Nicole Powell were hitting 3s. They are the best percentage three-point shooting team in the league, and Mitchell has hit 14-18 three-pointers against Indiana. They have made 35 3s in four games, and a number have been back breakers in critical Liberty runs.

While I root for the Fever to win, I don’t really consider myself a homer. I love being part of a team and a franchise, but I also know there’s a time and place for objectivity. If I don’t give you that, how can you trust me. At the season-ending ticket holders party, I announced that I had selected Mitchell for Most Improved Player. Coach Dunn and the Fever fans howled because I didn’t pick Jessica Davenport. JDav was worthy of my consideration, but you can’t argue Mitchell’s numbers and improvement this year. But I did pick Tamika Catchings for MVP and first-team All-WNBA and I have Katie Douglas as a second-team selection. And I am picking the Fever to beat the Liberty 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a chance to repeat as back-to-back Eastern Conference champs. Now, how do you like that Fever fans?

August 21, 2010
How quickly a road trip can go from good to bad. And while this three-game road trip is complete, it sure seems like the Indiana Fever has been on the road for a long time. Well, they have. Thirteen of the last 15 days. It is good to head home and close the regular season at Conseco Fieldhouse Sunday at 5 p.m. against Minnesota.

Two weeks ago, Indiana beat both Phoenix and LA on the road before beating Phoenix again ahead of this three-game road trip. Sunday felt good with the 79-66 win over Connecticut, especially since Indiana had to overcome a four-point deficit after three quarters. It was a fifth straight win for a team shooting 54% and averaging 94.2 points per game in that stretch. And the Fever were in first place by a game and half over New York and two games over Washington. Well, that is gone now with a pair of poor performances, losing at New York 78-57 and at San Antonio 75-61 on Friday night at the AT&T Center. Poor shooting and 59 points per game in the two losses. Even if you play decent defense, that type of offensive output will not win games in the WNBA. And now it’s a three-way tie with the Fever, New York and Washington all with 21-12 records at the top of the Eastern Conference.

But it’s really not a tie with one game to play. Washington won the season series against both the Fever and Liberty, and New York also owns a tie-breaker against the Fever. So heading into Sunday’s play, Indiana is in third in the East and would not have home-court advantage in the first round of next week’s playoffs.

But there’s still hope, though Indiana needs a lot of help to get the top seed in the East. Three things have to happen. Indiana has to beat Minnesota, New York must lose at home to Connecticut and Washington has to fall at Atlanta. The Fever could still secure the second seed and home court in the first round if they win, Washington loses and New York wins. And the same is true if the Fever win, Washington wins and New York loses. What’s happened is Indiana has lost control of its own destiny. Since Washington and Atlanta tip off Sunday at 3, Indiana will know that outcome when it’s game starts Sunday night. New York and Connecticut play at 4 pm so by halftime Sunday night, we’ll have an idea of the Fever’s post-season possibilities.

Right now, let’s not worry about the other teams and their scoreboards. Indiana has to get “it’s” game back. It has to worry about itself. The Fever simply put have not played like a team capable of winning the WNBA title the past two games. Maybe the wear and tear of being on the road has caught up. With a 9-8 record away from home, they have posted one of the best road records in the league. But this has been a long stretch with just a couple of days at home over a two-week period.

So right the ship and beat Minnesota and go into the playoffs feeling good about yourself. Match a franchise-record 22 wins and celebrate a sixth-straight post-season appearance.

Then look ahead. I am still confident that this team can get the job done, even if they don’t have home-court advantage. They have won at New York and Washington and are more than capable of repeating as Eastern Conference champs. We knew the road wouldn’t be easy in the Eastern Conference, and maybe, just maybe, this bump in the road will get the Fever back on course beginning next week in the playoffs.

August 18, 2010

Some say in sports that the losses are tougher to handle than the wins are to enjoy. I don’t know how I feel about that one, but clearly Tuesday night’s 78-57 loss at New York made me feel a lot worse than at any time this year. Not only did Indiana’s five-game overall win streak and three-game win streak on the road end, the Fever’s grasp on the Eastern Conference regular-season title was loosened by the Liberty. The stakes were high and the Liberty gained control of the race for the top seed in the East.

Indiana, 21-11, still leads 20-11 New York by a half game, but the Liberty have an extra game to play in the season’s final five days. If the Fever are to get the top seed in the East heading into the playoffs, they need a little help now. Why? Because even though the Fever and Liberty tied 2-2 in the season series, right now, the Liberty (13-7) have a better conference record than Indiana (13-9). And that’s the second tiebreaker. While Indiana is done playing teams in the East, New York still has Washington and Connecticut left. Lurking in third place is Washington and the Mystics trail Indiana by just a game with a 20-12 record. And the Mystics own the regular-season tie breaker after winning the season series 3-1.

Simply put for Indiana, they just need to win games at San Antonio and vs. Minnesota Sunday in the regular-season finale and then hope Washington beats New York Friday night. If that happens, Indiana will have the top seed in the East.

Now, back to Tuesday night. It reminded me of the Atlanta loss to start the month at Philips Arena. Indiana was never in that game against the Dream and lost 90-74. Against the Liberty, the Fever led 21-18 after the first quarter as Tamika Catchings put on a show at MSG. She scored 15 of the Fever’s first 17 points and had three three-pointers in the first 10 minutes. But Indiana was sloppy in the second quarter, scoring just six points and turning it over seven times. But the Fever trailed only 30-27 at halftime.

It didn’t get better in the third quarter and the Liberty, quite frankly, blew the Fever out in the second half. Indiana seemed a step slow, and New York got every loose ball and pounded the Fever on the offensive glass. Catchings seemed to be the only Fever player really ready to play. She scored 25, hitting 8-12 field goals, including 6-7 from three-point range. But New York took her out of play for most of the middle two quarters, and their defense caused Indiana problems all night long.

Unlike the last time we were in New York, Cappie Pondexter didn’t have to do it all for the Liberty. She had 40 in a loss in July, but had just 13 Tuesday night. It was the Leilani Mitchell show. She scored 19 and hit 4-5 three-pointers. In four games against Indiana this year, the WNBA’s leading three-point shooter has hit 14-18 behind the arc.

I guess I was just surprised how the game played out. I knew New York was capable of a win, and they are playing terrific right now. I just didn’t think Indiana would play so poorly with so much on the line.

So everything may not be in Indiana’s control to win the East, but my guess is we’ll have an interesting finish to what’s been an interesting season in the East. When I write again on Saturday, we’ll be a little bit closer to knowing how everything will stack up in the post-season. But then again, I also wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t know anything until 7 pm Sunday night.

August 16, 2010
There was no question that I was leaning toward voting Tamika Catchings the 2010 WNBA MVP. Now, there is no “leaning” as I will cast my vote for Catch on Monday, August 22.

Why? Well, to me, she locked that up with her performance in Indiana’s comeback 79-66 win at Connecticut on Sunday night. It was Indiana’s fifth straight win, matching a season-high, and matched Indiana’s franchise record of three straight road wins. The Fever have also won six of seven and seven of nine away from Conseco Fieldhouse.

Catchings paced the Fever with 26 points, the fifth time in the last seven games that she’s totaled 24 or more points. And as usual, she played an all-around game with seven rebounds and seven assists. And in the fourth quarter, when the Fever outscored the Sun 29-12, she scored 11 points, added five assists and hounded Connecticut’s point guard Renee Montgomery. That’s why Catch is the MVP. It’s not just the scoring. It’s the complete game. And that’s why she deserves her first MVP award.

Elsewhere on, Indiana PR guru Kevin Messenger has done a wonderful job stating why Catchings should be the 2010 MVP. He has written three letters documenting Tamika’s numbers. While she has had many great years in her 10-year career, this is no doubt her best. She is the only player in WNBA history to ever rank in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks in the same season. This year, she is in the top 12 in all of those categories, but has taken her game up a notch by shooting a career high 49% from the field and 43% from three-point range. Earlier this year, she became the first player in WNBA history to score 4,500 points, grab 2,000 rebounds and dish out 1,000 assists. Those are career numbers. But her 2010 numbers definitely warrant her this year’s MVP.

Just look at her play in the last 15 games. Nine times she has scored 20+ points and has had five double-doubles. In 10 of those games, she has had four or more assists and usually guards the opponent’s best offensive player. In the last five games, she has averaged 24.2 points, eight rebounds and 4.8 assists while shooting 53%. In the past, Catchings’ knock by many was that she was a terrific all-around player but not a good enough scorer or shooter to win the MVP award. Well, let’s erase that thought right there.

Many people think two-time MVP Lauren Jackson is a shoo-in to win her third because the Seattle Storm have the league’s best record at 25-6. She is an outstanding player and definitely deserving. But let’s be honest, the Storm have had it easy against a very mediocre Western Conference this season. Updating Kevin Messenger’s Tamika Catchings’ MVP Letter #3, six of the WNBA’s top seven teams reside in the East and the East has a 46-20 record (70%) against the West in 2010. Without Seattle, the rest of the West has won a whopping 22% (12-42) against teams from the East.

So to me, there is no question who the MVP is. It’s Tamika Catchings. While she’s been “Top Three” four times and “Top Five” seven times in MVP voting, she should be “Top One” when the ballots are counted in 2010.

Now, back to the game at Connecticut. What a bounce-back fourth quarter against the Sun. After doing very little in a third quarter that featured 10 turnovers and 3-11 shooting, the Fever dominated the fourth by hitting 11-15 field goals and holding the Sun to 2-13. I documented Catchings’ play, but it was Jessica Davenport’s three straight field goals that gave Indiana a 67-63 lead after the Fever trailed 63-61 with 5:38 to play. Catchings then scored seven straight points, including a cold-blooded three-pointer that gave Indiana a 72-66 lead with 2:33 to go. And Lin Dunn made the decision of the game when she put Catchings on Montgomery in the fourth quarter. That stymied the Sun’s offense and the Fever rolled.

The Fever have now shot 50%+ in three of four games and in the two wins over Phoenix and the Connecticut win, the Fever have shot 73% (36-49) and outscored the opponent 89-46 in the fourth quarter.

So it’s on to New York for Tuesday night’s game against the Liberty. I can’t wait. Both teams are on a roll. The Liberty eight straight wins, the Fever five straight wins. No matter what happens, the Fever will leave Madison Square Garden in first place with two games to play. But I’m banking that the 1 1/2 game lead can increase and the Fever will be a step closer to home court advantage in the East.

August 14, 2010

Another raucous crowd and another big Indiana Fever win on Friday night! Tamika Catchings and company routed Phoenix with another 30-point fourth quarter and blasted the Mercury 110-90. And that was after the Fever won in Phoenix 104-82, setting a then regular-season record for most points in franchise history.

That clinched a sixth-straight playoff spot and kept the Fever a game and half ahead of the hot New York Liberty. At 20-10, the Fever made it back-to-back 20 win seasons and have now done it five times in six years. Only two other WNBA franchises have done that in history!

The Fever shot a franchise-record 58% in Phoenix, and showed that it was new fluke with a 57% performance at Conseco Fieldhouse. Catchings continues to show why she should win her first MVP award, hitting 10-16 field goals, 4-6 three-pointers on her way to a 29-point, 7-rebound and 6-assist night. She may be 31 years old, but I told her in the post-game show on 1070 The Fan that she was playing like a 21-year old. I have never seen her play better.

But Catch had lots of help. Katie Douglas added 19, Tammy Sutton-Brown had her fourth straight double figure game with 15, Ebony Hoffman added 10 and the bench provided yet another double-figure scorer with Briann January scoring 13. The Fever bench outscored the Mercury subs 34-15 and topped the 30-point mark for an eighth time this year. The Fever have had a double-figure reserve in 19 of 30 games this season.

For the Fever, Catchings and Douglas, who signed a long-term extension to stay with Indiana on Thursday, have been consistently solid all year. They have also played well together better than their first two years as teammates. Again, I think playing together in Turkey in the off-season really brought them closer together on and off the floor. But they are starting to get consistent help. Sutton-Brown is shooting 60%+ from the field in the last four games and looks more like the TSB we have seen during her first three years with the Fever.

Now it’s on to Connecticut where the Sun kept their slim playoff hopes alive Friday night with a dismantling of a Seattle team without Lauren Jackson. In fact, the Storm played their starters very little as they have already clinched home court advantage throughout the entire post-season. I see them shutting the starters down with a week to go in the regular season, especially on the road with four games to play. But they should be careful. They could lose some momentum and I still think Phoenix could get them in a short three-game series.

August 9, 2010
It was an impressive weekend for the Indiana Fever. A season-high three-game losing streak is in the rear mirror and the Fever are back in first place in the Eastern Conference after wins over Atlanta and Phoenix.

The Fever had to ramp up an offense that had gone sour during the losing streak, three times failing to crack 40% from the field. That changed in the high scoring wins against the two top offenses in the WNBA. The Fever beat Atlanta 95-93 Friday while shooting nearly 50%. On Sunday, the Fever hit franchise records for points scored and field goal percentage (58.8%) with a 104-82 win at Phoenix.

Snapping the losing streak, including two straight at Conseco Fieldhouse, was impressive against Atlanta, but what about the effort at Phoenix. The Mercury were playing their best basketball of the year, having won four straight and seven of eight. The Fever, though, like playing at the US Airways Center. In the regular season, Indiana has now won three straight and five of six in Phoenix. Even with two losses in the three games in Phoenix in last year’s WNBA Finals, the Fever have won six of the last nine at US Airways Center.

The key in this game was the second and fourth quarters. The Fever outscored Phoenix 33-24 in the second to lead 53-46 at the half. With a 74-70 lead after three quarters, the Fever blew the doors off the US Airways Center with a 30-12 advantage in the final 10 minutes. Indiana hit 12-14 field goals in the fourth quarter. That’s 85.7%!

Indiana had been in this position before, in fact many times this season. The Fever have led after three quarters 23 times, but have also lost six of those games, including four on the road. Finishing at times has not been a strong suit of this team. That was not the case on Sunday. Five bench players ended the third and started the fourth with an Indiana lead. Then the starters returned and they chewed up the Phoenix matchup zone.

While the offense was solid, Indiana’s defense limited the Mercury, the WNBA’s top shooting team (48%), to just 43%. In Phoenix’s four-game win streak, the Mercury three times shot 60% and shot 58% for the four games. For Phoenix, 82 points is a bad day at the office when you average better than 97 per game.

I was a little worried about this team during the losing streak. It appeared they had hit the same wall that they hit a year ago with three weeks to play. But Tammy Sutton-Brown has had back-to-back season high games and seems to be regaining her offensive confidence. And Tamika Catchings and Katie douglas continue to show they are a pretty good one-two punch. You know you will get open shots against Phoenix, but you have to hit them. And Catch and KT did. Catchings had her sixth double-double with 24 and 10, while Douglas had a big 12-point second quarter and added 10 more in the fourth and had a 28-point night.

Douglas took a couple of shots to the face during the game, and Jessica Davenport left in the fourth quarter after taking an elbow to the head from Diana Taurasi. Jess appeared to be fine after the game, despite losing a lot of blood on the US Airways Center floor from a blow to the nose. She was solid in the post with 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

While the Phoenix game is so fresh in my mind, I do want to revisit Friday night’s win over Atlanta. The 9,000+ fans at Conseco Fieldhouse were terrific. It was absolutely a playoff atmosphere. I know it inspired the team to snap the losing streak, and the many breast cancer survivors in the “pink” crowd were uplifting for the team as well. I imagine that when the Mercury and Fever have a rematch on Friday night, it will be a raucous night and a reminder of how animated last year’s playoff crowd was. I am sure 2010 will be much of the same as we move closer to the post-season.

August 4, 2010

I’ve talked the past week or so about games being classified as “must wins”. It seemed a bit early to say that a few weeks ago, but now, there is no questioning “must win” games. And the first is Friday night when Atlanta visits Conseco Fieldhouse at 7 pm.

Indiana stumbled down the stretch last year, losing five of the last seven in the regular season, but the Fever had built up a nice cushion on top of the Eastern Conference. Now with a season-high three-game losing streak, including two straight at home, after Tuesday night’s 82-72 loss vs. New York, the Fever are stumbling again but without a cushion. In the bunched up East, you can go from first to out of the playoffs if you don’t watch yourself. The Fever “must” beat the Dream Friday night to prevent that from happening.

It seems that Indiana got some help from Washington on Tuesday night. While Indiana never led in its home loss to the Liberty, the Dream, also at home, faltered down the stretch in losing to Washington. All three teams now have 10 losses, but Atlanta (18-10) has a one game lead over the Fever and Mystics (both 16-10) because they have played two more games (both wins) than the two second-place teams. And for the time being, Indiana is really third because the Mystics own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Fever at 3-1. And New York is lurking in fourth place, just a game behind the Mystics and Fever. Cappie Pondexter has rallied her team to four straight wins and six of seven over the last two weeks. Their roster includes four players who are new to the franchise and have won WNBA titles. I don’t think they will go away.

Speaking of tiebreaker, Indiana can win the season series with Atlanta with a victory Friday night. Both teams have won twice at home, and the Fever have the all-important fifth game at Conseco Fieldhouse. But the home court advantage has evaporated a little bit with the recent losses to Washington and New York.

Why have the Fever lost three-straight? It’s a combination of things. Simply put, Indiana is shooting poorly at 37% and the opponents are firing as a 49% clip. Against Washington, it was 26% shooting in the second half and blowing an 11-point lead. At Atlanta, it was falling behind early and getting blitzed 46-12 in the paint. Tuesday night, again the Fever trailed early and never led, and the Liberty were deadly from behind the arc. Of their 12 three-pointers, a number of them came after Indiana had narrowed the gap in the second half.

Tamika Catchings has not been perfect the past three games, but her solid play is what the Fever need from the rest of the roster. This is an older team, so you hope they haven’t hit the wall 26 games into the season. I like to think of them as a veteran team, one that knows what it takes to rally when their backs are up against the wall. I am betting on the veteran team. They need to step up and put Friday night’s “must win” in the win column and get this Fever train back on track.

July 31, 2010
The Fever have arrived in Atlanta in similar fashion to when they played the Dream at Conseco Fieldhouse two weeks ago. Fresh off a loss while failing to hold a fourth quarter lead at home. Hopefully, the Fever will respond in similar fashion.

Indiana’s five-game win streak ended Friday night when Washington rallied for a 77-73 win. It was Washington’s second at Conseco Fieldhouse and the Mystics won the season series 3-1. Hopefully, the head-to-head tiebreaker won’t come into play with the Mystics. If it does, Indiana’s on the wrong end of the stick.

The Fever had 11-point first half and second half leads, and faltered down the stretch. Shooting 26 percent in the second half didn’t help. Neither did the 44-21 loss on the boards, the fourth straight time the Mystics outrebounded the Fever by double digits.

The Fever suffered a similar loss back on July 14 at Conseco Fieldhouse. Connecticut rallied for a 77-68 win. But the Fever proceeded to win five straight before Friday night’s loss, including an 89-70 home win over the Dream. Atlanta was in the midst of a four-game losing streak and five losses in six games, but now the Dream has won three straight. After Friday night’s 94-62 blowout of Connecticut on the road, Sunday’s game now is for first place in the Eastern Conference. Indiana can also earn the important head-to-head tiebreaker with a win. The Fever has won two of the first three, and has two chances to win the season series including next Friday’s game at Conseco Fieldhouse. Two wins would be nice to create a two-game advantage over the Dream, but one is absolutely a must with three weeks and 10 games to play.

Speaking of rebounding, the Fever have to find a way to be more competitive on the glass. You don’t have to win the boards, but you have to keep it close. The Fever forced 25 Washington turnovers Friday night, the fourth straight game the Mystics have had 20+ against the Fever. But the Mystics shot 50%+ and stayed in the game with their glass play. This must change, and I mean must change, if Indiana hopes to win the East and ultimately the WNBA title. This must be a focus. This is hustle, desire and the willingness to do what it takes to get the ball.

July 27, 2010
The Fever have enjoyed a season-high four-game win streak not because of the continued consistent and excellent play of its two stars, Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas, but because of the emergence of two other scoring options. Both Briann January and Ebony Hoffman are now playing like we expected them to play this season, and are stepping up like they did in the playoffs a year ago.

Both played huge roles in Saturday’s 78-73 win at Washington. January had career highs of 19 points and eight rebounds, and hit 14-15 free throws including some big ones down the stretch. Hoffman got Indiana out to an early lead and scored 13 points, her fifth straight game in double figures.

Over the course of the regular season and post-season, it’s awfully hard for two players to carry the load. Catch and KT are quite capable, but the Fever are a better team when they don’t have to combine for 40 points a night.

Hoffman has really stepped up her game since the All-Star break. She has averaged more than 14 points and six rebounds, while January has had four double figure games in the last six. January returned to the starting lineup on Saturday night, and with Hoffman, their execution of the pick and roll early posed lots of problems for the Mystics.

On radio Saturday night, I mentioned in the open that it was hard to say that with 13 games remaining that a game is a must-win game. But it was and the Fever responded. Not only needing a win to pad it’s Eastern Conference first-place lead, the Fever could ill afford to lose a third straight game to the Mystics and watch winning the season series evaporate. Now, Indiana can forge a 2-2 tie with a win Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse. That’s important because in the bunched up Eastern Conference, you don’t know when or if you will need that head-to-head tiebreaker. If you keep winning, that is moot. But it would be nice to have it in your hip pocket. And if you tie an opponent 2-2, the next tiebreaker is who has the best conference record. Right now, Indiana looks pretty good in that category.

Speaking of season series, the Fever look for a five-game sweep against Chicago on Tuesday night. All of the games have been decided by eight points or less, so it will be a challenge. Especially with Sylvia Fowles in the middle. She had 26 points and 18 rebounds in Chicago earlier this month and is averaging 17.3 points and 14 rebounds against the Fever this season.

Finally, back to Saturday night in DC. Let’s hear it for Tully Bevilaqua. She hit two huge second-half three-pointers that kept Indiana in the lead. She had been 0-11 in the previous five games and 2-20 since hitting nearly 50% over a month ago. She never hesitated and shot the ball confidently. She had no problems coming off the bench behind January and I think she will be a key reserve player with her leadership, defense and ability to knock down the “3” as the season winds down.

July 19, 2010

After starting the week with a disappointing loss at home to Connecticut, the Indiana Fever bounced back on the weekend to knock off Atlanta and win in overtime at New York. And just like that, the Fever jump from third to first in the topsy-turvy Eastern Conference.

Topsy-turvy it is and Indiana’s lead is precarious at best. Percentage points over Atlanta, a half game over third place Washington and fourth place Connecticut is just a game from the top. But Indiana is in first place in the East, right where you want to be with about a month left in the regular season.

In both games during the weekend, the Fever again had the lead starting the fourth quarter. They’ve done that 17 times in the first 20 games. After losing for the fifth time with a fourth quarter lead against Connecticut, the Fever blasted Atlanta in the fourth quarter on Friday and then needed extra time to beat New York.

Friday night, Indiana outscored Atlanta 23-10 in the fourth quarter and won 89-70. Sunday in New York, the Fever led by five after three quarters and in fact had to rally late from a five-point deficit to force overtime. In both games, the dynamic duo of Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas led the Fever to the wins. They combined for 43 points in both games with Catchings scoring 23 and 22 and Douglas 20 and 21.

Against Atlanta, the duo got plenty of help with Ebony Hoffman and Jessica Davenport each adding 17 points. In New York, Hoffman continued her improved play with 15 points, her third straight double figure game.

But there is no question the Big Apple spotlight belonged to Catchings. She has had plenty of big games at Madison Square Garden, and that was the case Sunday night. Not only did she have her fourth double-double of the year, she hit the three-pointer that forced regulation and scored nine of Indiana’s points in overtime. Catch’s play down the stretch helped steal the spotlight a little bit from Cappie Pondexter. She scored a career and Liberty franchise high 40 points in nearly pulling out a New York victory. She is an unbelievable individual talent, and her absence in Phoenix is probably why the defending champ Mercury are struggling. Boy was she good. But Indiana was still able to pull out the win.

So, the Fever can enjoy being on top in the East for a few days. But everybody is lurking, with Chicago and New York just three and three and a half games out of first place. And they are fifth and sixth in the Eastern Conference! If they were both in the West, they would hold down the second and third seeds and fighting for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

What a bounce back weekend for Indiana. Let’s hope it continues Thursday night against Los Angeles and Saturday night in Washington DC against the Mystics. See you then.

July 15, 2010

The Fever started the second half of the WNBA season hopefully not with a thud, but just a bump in its quest to defend an Eastern Conference regular-season title. But if the Fever don’t beat Atlanta at home Friday night and New York on the road Sunday afternoon, the second half start could be classified as a thud.


The Fever lost 77-68 to Connecticut at home Wednesday afternoon. It snapped Indiana’s seven-game Conseco Fieldhouse win streak and was the second loss at home to an Eastern Conference rival. And with the two home losses, Indiana is in danger of losing season series to both Connecticut and Washington. With the Eastern Conference bunched up like it is, head-to-head tiebreakers could determine home court advantage in the playoffs. The Fever trail the Sun 2-1 and visit Mohegan Sun Arena on August 15. Washington has won the first two games this summer and host the Fever on July 24 and visit Conseco Fieldhouse July 30. In my opinion, all three games are must wins if the Fever are to repeat as Eastern champs.

You can say that too for the three remaining games with Atlanta and New York. The Dream visit Indy on Friday night and the two teams then play each other at home in August. The two teams have each won home games to start the season. The Fever knocked of New York at home in June, and make the first of two trips to Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The two teams meet twice in August.

While the Western Conference is a runaway with Seattle leading second place Minnesota by nine and a half games, the Eastern Conference has all six teams with better records than the Lynx. The Dream lead the East by a game over Washington, two games ahead of the Fever and two and half games ahead of Washington. The Liberty are lurking in fifth place, and the Fever still have to play those two games at New York.

Where does Indiana have to improve? Let’s start with rebounding. The Fever continue to give up more than 10 offensive rebounds per game, and opponents have hurt the Fever in second chance points. Indiana pulled down 18 of their own on the offensive glass against Connecticut, but it’s tough to win when you shoot a season-low 32%.

Did Indiana shoot too many three-point shots against Connecticut? Yes, 29 attempts is probably way too many but the Fever have led the WNBA in three-point field goal percentage at 38%. The Fever are better offensively when they have a mix of perimeter and inside play.

While Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas have been consistent scorers for the Fever all year long, Indiana needs to get more consistency from Ebony Hoffman and Tammy Sutton-Brown. Ebony averaged almost eight rebounds per game two years ago, but that number is around four this year. And the Fever are so much better when Sutton-Brown is getting post touches and scoring. Tammy is averaging only four points and is 9-31 from the field in the last six games. Her top scoring game was against Atlanta three weeks ago when she hit 7-14 field goals and scored 16 points.

So the Fever’s margin of error just got a little bit thinner, even with just the one loss to Connecticut on Wednesday afternoon. Hopefully, they can turn things around with a pair of wins against Atlanta and New York this weekend.

July 9, 2010

Fever fans...sorry I missed you Thursday night as Indiana routed Tulsa 100-72 at Conseco Fieldhouse. I am in Northern Michigan with my family for a week of vacation...and I assure you...I will be back behind the microphone on Wednesday when the Fever host the Connecticut Sun at 1 p.m.

We are having a wonderful time. Four families sharing a seven-bedroom house on Crystal Lake near Traverse City. It’s after midnight, everyone’s asleep and I thought I would share my thoughts from over six hours away from Indianapolis.

Kevin Lee usually fills in for me when I handle the TV duties during the summer. On Thursday, he had the call on WNBA Live Access and 1070 The Fan. I was able to watch the game in Michigan and it was great to see the Fever offense explode against the Shock.

Tuesday night in Chicago, the Fever scored 25 first quarter points but then added just 33 the rest of the way in a 58-51 win over the Sky. After my broadcast on 1070 The Fan, I made the drive to Michigan. My two older boys joined me for the game and the drive and we talked in the car about the Fever grinding out a road win. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. Thursday night, before LeBron James announced his “Decision” to play in Miami, I watched on-line as Indiana ripped off 56 first half points and then posted the second 100-point game in franchise history. The starters and the bench both scored 50 points, and the Tamika Catchings/Katie Douglas third quarter show rivaled what I saw from Briann January and Shavonte Zellous off the bench in the first half. That was pretty and I am sure the Fever fans enjoyed a seventh-straight win at Conseco Fieldhouse.

So the Fever are 11-6 at the midway point of the season and on pace to match last year’s 22-12 record. I still think that record could win the Eastern Conference regular-season title. Atlanta and Washington are playing well, yet both are only a game better than Indiana in the loss column. The Fever have three more games with the Dream and two more with Washington, and the season series results could be critical to home court advantage in the playoffs. Indiana is 1-1 with the Dream with two games to play at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Mystics are the only team to beat Indiana at home, so the Fever need to return the favor in their remaining trip to Washington DC at the end of the month. Trailing 2-0 with two to play, the Fever need a 2-2 tie and a better conference record than Washington as a tie-breaker in case these teams are knotted up after 34 games. If somehow the Fever could pull a 5-0 sweep against the Dream and Mystics, I think a second consecutive Eastern Conference regular-season title and home court advantage in the playoffs is a lock.

June 30, 2010

The Fever will have a week to get over a 68-65 loss at Washington on Tuesday night, a loss that could have deep post-season implications come August. Indiana will close four straight games away from Conseco Fieldhouse on July 6 at Chicago.

Why the concern about the loss to Washington? Well, there are still 19 regular-season games to play, and a lot can happen in the next two months. But the Fever have dropped the first two of four regular-season games with the Mystics. The first tie-breaker in the post-season is head-to-head, and with the Eastern Conference so bunched up, it could be head-to-head play that could determine home court advantage in the playoffs.

After sweeping Washington in the regular-season 6-0 (including a first round playoff series win) last season, the Mystics have made the plays down the stretch in two 2010 wins. On Tuesday night, the stat sheet was pretty even between the two teams, and the Fever forced 20 Washington turnovers. But Indiana was outrebounded 35-24 and Washington scored 16 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds. That’s a big concern right now for the Fever, who have given up 10+ offensive rebounds in five straight games. And in four straight games, Indiana has lost the board battle each time to a tune of almost nine per game. The Fever will have a week to get over a 68-65 loss at Washington on Tuesday night, a loss that could have deep post-season implications come August. Indiana will close four straight games away from Conseco Fieldhouse on July 6 at Chicago.

It’s no time to panic, but clearly the Fever need to find a way to shore up the rebound deficiency. They don’t have to win the boards on a regular basis, but a nine-rebound disadvantage is too much, especially when the opponents are outscoring Indiana 17-10 in second chance points the last five games.

June 28, 2010

It wasn’t pretty on Sunday night in Chicago, but as they always say, a win is a win. The 70-64 defeat of the Sky at AllState Arena improved the Indiana Fever’s record to 9-5 ahead of Tuesday night’s game at Washington.

Basketball is a funny game. Friday night in Seattle, the Fever dropped an 85-81 decision to the Storm in a game that was pretty to watch. Both teams shot better than 50% from the field, both shot better than 50% from three-point range and the Storm won because they made a few more plays down the stretch.

Sunday night in Chicago, both teams struggled offensively. When the teams played in Chicago in May, the Fever won 92-86 in overtime in a game the Sky led 52-50 at halftime. In this game, neither team got to 30 in the first half as the Fever led 29-26 at halftime. Indiana’s offense was much better in the second half, but the real story was the Fever defense. The Sky shot just 33% from the field, and when the Fever needed stops late, they got a blocked shot and forced two turnovers in the game’s final 1:20.

I felt the bench let the Fever down a little bit Friday night in Seattle. That was not the case in Chicago. They helped Indiana build a 10-point fourth quarter lead and the Fever got key baskets from Jessica Moore and Shavonte Zellous. Moore, with 10 points, became the sixth different reserve to score double figures this year and the Fever have had a reserve score in double figures in 10 of 14 games.

The Fever needed it because it was a tough night for Katie Douglas, and especially Tamika Catchings. After they combined for 46 points (Douglas 29, Catchings 17) in Seattle, Douglas and Catchings scored just 14 and missed their first 10 shots before Katie’s five straight points before halftime gave Indiana the three-point lead. Douglas hit double figures with 10, but Catchings had a 31-game streak of double figure games end with four points. She was just 1-9 from the field after shooting better than 50% in the last six games. But the Fever found a way to win and I think Catchings will bounce back Tuesday night when Indiana plays at Washington on national television (ESPN2).

I selected Jessica Moore as Sunday night’s Kroger Player of the Game on 1070 The Fan. Beyond her points, Jessica just provides a lot of bench leadership and defensive pride for the Fever. She really has no highs or lows. Rather, you know what you get every night from the six-year veteran. I love her demeanor and I believe she is one of Indiana’s best acquisitions in its 11-year history.

What was also important about the win was that the Fever held on to a fourth quarter lead on the road. Previously, Indiana had led four times after three quarters before losing at Atlanta, Tulsa, Connecticut and Seattle. They needed to know that they can make the critical plays late, and while their last six points were free throws, it was the defense that was the story.

One final note: Indiana is lighting it up from three-point range. The Fever hit a season-high 10 from behind the arc and have now hit 27 in their last three games while shooting 52%.

Tuesday night’s game is important for many reasons. The Fever, Washington and Connecticut are all 9-5 and 1 1/2 games behind East leading Atlanta (11-4). Indiana plays Washington four times, and has already lost at home to the Mystics to open the season. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head play and when you look at how tight the East is right now, every game and potential win against an Eastern team is important. While you would have liked to start the trip with a win at Seattle, I’ll take Sunday’s win in Chicago and a win at Washington any day.

June 24, 2010

After losing their first two games of the season for a second consecutive year, it’s been quite a turnaround for the Fever early in 2010. No, there’s not an 11-game win streak ongoing like there was last year. But with an 8-2 record over the past 10 games, the Fever have again positioned themselves for another run at an Eastern Conference regular-season title.

While Indiana looks to continue the success, the road will be tough. And the next four games are on the road, starting with a trip to Seattle on Friday night. The Storm have the WNBA’s best record at 11-2 and are running away from the rest of the Western Conference. They are probably thinking about payback since Indiana beat Seattle 72-65 last Thursday at Conseco Fieldhouse. And the Storm have been tough on the Fever in Seattle, posting an 8-1 record at Key Arena. An Indiana win would be a great way to start a road trip that continues with stops at Chicago and Washington. The Fever then have a week off before returning to Chicago on Tuesday, July 6.

While the team travels on Thursday, I won’t make the trip until Friday morning because of my duties at Conseco Fieldhouse for Thursday night’s NBA Draft. It will be a long day of travel on Friday, as I fly through Phoenix before arriving in Seattle in the early afternoon. I love visiting Seattle, and am disappointed I will have such a short stay there. But there is work to be done, and let’s hope for a successful Pacers NBA Draft and a winning start to the Fever’s longest road trip of the year.

June 16, 2010

Sunday night at Conseco Fieldhouse, I saw something I’ve seen many times with the Indiana Fever. Tamika Catchings taking over a game. Since Catch played her first game in a Fever uniform in 2002, Catchings has helped her team win numerous games just like she did Sunday night when Indiana beat Connecticut 77-67.

On this night, Catch struggled a bit for three and half quarters. But when her team needed her most, she scored 12 of the Fever’s last 17 points after the Sun had tied the game at 60. She nearly had a double-double in the fourth quarter, adding eight rebounds and ended the night with her second double-double of the year with 18 points and a season-high 13 rebounds.

The good news about this, Fever fans, is that Catch does not have to do this on a regular basis like she did early in her career. She has a lot more help now than she had earlier in her career. In Tamika’s first five years, if she didn’t put up big scoring numbers on a nightly basis, it was tough for the Fever to win.

Katie Douglas, Ebony Hoffman, Tammy Sutton-Brown and the rest of the team can score, and that takes a lot of that burden off Tamika. It also allows her to continue to focus on her defense. The WNBA’s five-time steals leader and three-time Defensive Player of the Year has had at least two steals in all ten games this year. She is playing “D” at a high level. I also think that with the offensive depth this team has displayed, Tamika has less pressure to score and that has allowed her game to be better this season. She is shooting nearly 50% from the field through 10 games, and is getting to the free throw line like she always has. She has made 30 straight free throws (one off her franchise record) and is shooting 86% from the line.

With the win over the Sun, the Fever can now focus on the two conference leaders visiting Conseco Fieldhouse this week. Seattle leads the Western Conference and visits Thursday, while the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Dream come to Indy on Saturday. Two wins would improve Indiana’s record to 8-4 and probably put them on top of the East. That’s important because the Fever hit the road for four straight starting next week and won’t be back home again until July 8.

June 11, 2010

It’s game day at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. I have enjoyed my trips to this venue over the years, even though I am not a gambler. But I do enjoy the environment: restaurants and shops, it’s like a mall here in Uncasville.

The Fever haven’t really enjoyed the trips to this building, having lost 4 of the last 5 to the Sun. But I was talking to former Sun player Katie Douglas on the plane on Thursday. There is only one player remaining from the teams she played on, including the two that went to the WNBA Finals. That’s Asjha Jones. No KT, Nykesha Sales, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Linsday Whalen. All names that were synonymous with Mike Thibault and the Sun.

Yes, it’s a new and younger version of those successful Sun teams. After missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years, the Sun are now built around former UConn stars Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery. Here’s hoping the newcomers don’t look at the past history in the series. Connecticut has won three of the last 5, 7 of 11 and 17 of 24 regular-season games.

But I sense the Fever are ready to go and this weekend could be a defining moment in making a move to get to the top of the Eastern Conference. A home and home series with the Sun, and the Fever enter on a roll. The franchise-record 38-point win at Minnesota was something, but check out these numbers during the three-game win streak: Fever 90-48 in points in the paint, 94-48 points from the bench, 50-9 in fast break points and 68-82 and 83% at the free throw line. These are significant numbers and the reason the Fever are rolling heading into a big WNBA weekend.

June 7, 2010

WOW! What a performance by the Indiana Fever to wrap up a winning hat trick at Minnesota on Sunday night. Winning by a franchise-record 38 points, the Fever drilled the Lynx 89-51 and in the process improved to 5-3 on the year. After an 0-2 start, now its five wins in six games for an Indiana team playing some pretty good basketball right now.

The Fever hit the Lynx on all cylinders. Tamika Catchings is shooting the ball as well as she has in the last five years, and her 27-point performance was the catalyst to the blow-out win. Her steal and three-point play gave the Fever the lead for good early in the first quarter. The Fever led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, 24 in the second, 30 in the third and the game-high 38 at the end of the night. Indiana shot a season-high 52% and held Minnesota to a franchise-low 21% and was the lowest an opponent has ever shot against the Fever.

To be honest, the Minnesota fans were absolutely stunned. Last Tuesday, they watched the Lynx beat the defending champion Phoenix Mercury 92-82 at Target Center. They expected the Lynx to be competitive and post another win against one of the WNBA’s best.

You have to hand it to this veteran team. Three wins in four nights with a mid-morning flight that didn’t put the team in their hotel rooms until close to noon for a 6 p.m. tipoff.

The Fever’s three-game win streak can be attributed to paying better attention to team defense. What a difference a week makes. Tulsa shot 50% at the BOK Center on May 29th. San Antonio, New York and Minnesota shot 33% with the Fever winning the three games by an average 21.6 ppg. Sunday night, Minnesota shot 3-17 in the first quarter, 5-18 in the second, 3-12 in the third and 1-11 in the fourth with the field goal coming with 36.5 seconds left in the game.

While defense has been the catalyst, add depth to the mix for the Fever. The acquisition of Shavonte Zellous has bolstered an already strong bench, and the Fever have played the last three games without Briann January. In the wins over San Antonio and Minnesota, the Fever twice played 10 players each at least 10 minutes per game. There has been no drop off when Lin Dunn uses the reserves, and the team chemistry is outstanding. The 2009 Indiana Fever had the deepest bench in franchise history, but that is quickly being surpassed in 2010. The addition of Zellous and rookie Jene Morris to last year’s nine returnees makes this a team capable of making a return appearance to the WNBA Finals. Zellous has had three straight double figure games off the bench and has been a gift from the Tulsa Shock.

Last week I lamented the Fever’s poor free throw shooting through five games. Just 68% after shooting a franchise-record 82% in 2009. Now a complete turnaround over the last three wins. The Fever hit 67-78 and shot 86% in the three wins. Individually, Tamika Catchings has hit 31 of her last 33 free throws after starting the year 9-16. And after shooting only 33% from the field in the first five games, Katie Douglas has made 21-33 field goals (64%) and 10-19 three-point field goals in the three-game win streak.

For a second time this season, I was joined on the radio by WNBA President Donna Orender. Donna was with me during the third quarter in Atlanta, and kept me company in the fourth quarter as the Fever were blowing out the Lynx Sunday night. I told her she was now 1-1 as a Fever analyst and I would look forward to her joining me again later in the season.

On a final note, Lin Dunn and I talked about the passing of John Wooden at halftime of Sunday night’s radio broadcast. Lin has some special memories, and so do I. I interviewed Coach Wooden while I was the Sports Director at WXIN-TV Fox 59, and earlier in my career, I did some PR work for the Indiana/Kentucky High School Basketball Series and I had to talk to Coach Wooden in regards to an award named in his honor. I was given his home telephone number and dialed the phone, half expecting someone else to answer. No. It was Coach Wooden. He was gracious and we spent an hour or so on the phone. It was an hour I will never forget.

June 2, 2010

A crazy broadcasting and travel weekend is now in the past and I can focus my full attention on the Indiana Fever. Hopefully, the Fever can bounce back from a disappointing road loss in Tulsa and start a three games in four nights portion of the schedule with a win Thursday night at Conseco Fieldhouse against the San Antonio Silver Stars.

As many of you know, I have been a long-time member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. I had duties at the Speedway last weekend, while also traveling with the Fever to Tulsa for Saturday night’s game. Friday morning and afternoon, I worked as the Turn 3 announcer for the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 on Carb Day at IMS. Then it was a 6 pm flight to Tulsa for Saturday night’s game against the Shock. Saturday night after the game, I drove back from Tulsa with Fever PR guru Kevin Messenger and assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg. We left the BOK Center at 11:15 pm Indianapolis time and we were at the Indy Airport returning the rental car by 8:45 am Sunday morning. With help from Officer Steve Park of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, I made it to the 9th Floor of the IMS Pagoda by 10:15 am. We had our annual race-day meeting at 11 am and I was in my Turn 4 position for the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 by 12 noon. Thanks to Kevin and Gary for the company and for KMess handling part of the driving. I always say that you have to do what you have to do when put in a tough situation. Fortunately, I was able to make it work and handle a busy broadcasting weekend with no problems.

With Dario Franchitti winning the hottest 500 on record, I have now cooled off and look forward to watching the Fever heat things up in June. I like the acquisition of Shavonte Zellous from Tulsa. I think she brings athleticism and an ability to take the ball to the basket that the Fever have lacked early in the season. Tamika Catchings and Zellous were one-two in free throw attempts last season, and Zellous did it as a rookie while averaging almost 12 points per game. She was solid against the Fever in the Eastern Conference finals when she averaged almost 16 points per game.

Indiana has to find a way to get easier baskets, whether that’s in transition or the halfcourt. It will be hampered this weekend without Briann January, but it’s a must when you struggle from the perimeter. I don’t think Indiana will continue to struggle at the free throw line. History has show the Fever to be a better than 80% free throw shooting team and I look for that to improve this week against San Antonio, New York and Minnesota.

One final note. I have now been married for 26 years to my beautiful wife, Terry. We celebrated our anniversary on June 2 and I would not be where I am today professionally if it wasn’t for her. She allowed me to do many things early in my broadcast career that took me away from home, and those opportunities put me in position to work for Pacers Sports & Entertainment on a full-time basis. Happy Anniversary Honey!

May 24, 2010

What a different feeling on this Monday from last. The Fever bounced back from an 0-2 opening weekend with a two-game sweep of the Chicago Sky. How did it happen? The simple answer is the team finally got to have some practice time with its entire roster that didn’t exist two weeks ago. But at the same time, since four of the starters weren’t around for training camp and a couple of pre-season games, that allowed the bench to play and gain some confidence heading into the regular season.

The big difference-maker on the weekend was Shay Murphy. We saw glimpses of this last season, but her two performances against the Sky were just what this team needed heading forward. She kept Indiana in the game Saturday night in Chicago with an 18-point first half, then turned to defense and rebounding in the second half of the 92-86 overtime win. After a career-high 20-point outing, along with 10 rebounds and six assists on the road, Murphy scored 14 of her 16 in the second half to help the Fever rally to complete the sweep. She added nine more rebounds and is now averaging 11.3 points and 6.5 rebounds through the first four games.

For a team that usually knows what it will get from veteran starters Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Ebony Hoffman, Murphy’s play has provided a significant lift. And on Sunday night, youngsters Briann January and Jene Morris had their best games of the season. Both scored 12 points, but most importantly they provided young legs and athleticism when Indiana needed it most. Morris hit her first two shots and that seemed to give her some confidence, something she hadn’t displayed the first two games. In fact, she didn’t even get off the bench Saturday night in Chicago.

Speaking of the bench, let’s not forget a couple of veterans who played well, Tully Bevilaqua and Jessica Moore. Both were on the floor in the first half Sunday night when Indiana built a nine-point lead, and were there again when Indiana rallied from a second-half deficit to lead by 11 early in the fourth quarter. Tully didn’t score, but she harassed Chicago’s guards and had three steals as Indiana changed the momentum with a stout defense.

Five paragraphs into this blog and now its time to talk about Catchings. She is the leader of this team, and she said not to worry about the 0-2 start. She answered with 28 points on Saturday, and added a typical Tamika game on Sunday with 13 points, five rebounds, two assists, three steals and a blocked shot. Her shot looks as good as it has looked in the last couple of years, and she’s shooting 56% through four games.

The Fever have the week off, and I do as well as I prepare for a busy broadcast weekend. I’ll work Carburation Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, fly to Tulsa that night and have the radio broadcast of the Fever and Shock Saturday night. Then it’s a 10-hour drive back to Indy with Fever PR guru Kevin Messenger so I can be in place high atop Turn 4 for Sunday’s broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 on the IMS Radio Network. I got a little practice in last weekend with qualifying in Indy on Saturday morning and then an up and back to Chicago on Saturday afternoon and night. I’ll make sure I get plenty of rest as the Fever look to complete the Memorial Day weekend with a 3-2 record.

May 17, 2010

The Indiana Fever didn’t start the 2009 season the way they wanted a year ago, but ended up in the WNBA Finals. Now in 2010, the same 0-2 start is a reality with hopes that the team can mirror the remainder of last year’s franchise-best 22-win regular season and playoff success.

You could say it was a disappointing opening weekend with the 72-65 home loss to Washington on Saturday night and Sunday’s 66-62 defeat in Atlanta. Much is expected of this team and franchise after last year’s run to the WNBA Finals. Nine players return and the Fever are the favorite to repeat as the regular-season Eastern Conference champs. But in a way, the slow start could be expected with four starters returning to Indianapolis from Turkey on Thursday. One practice on Friday simply isn’t enough time for a team to get ready for a back-to-back weekend. Even though most of these players are veterans, they still haven’t played together since last October. This week’s practices from Tuesday through Friday should be beneficial as the Fever prepare for another back-to-back with Chicago on Saturday and Sunday.

A year ago, Indiana lost opening weekend back-to-back games to Atlanta and Minnesota, but averaged 80 points per game. That team at least had a training camp together and the offense didn’t look bad. Over the weekend, you could tell the time away from each other really hampered the team when they had the ball. The Fever averaged just 63.5 points per game. Indiana only shot 40% last season, last in the league, so the 39% in the first two games is not necessarily surprising or a huge concern. But the turnovers are a problem. The Fever had 19 against Washington and 26 at Atlanta, including 11 in the fourth quarter when Indiana scored only four points.

The Fever had problems in a couple of other areas that hopefully will be cleaned up this week. They were outrebounded 35-22 by Washington and 37-34 by Atlanta, and the Dream had 18 offensive rebounds and 19 second chance points. That can’t happen for Indiana to have the same success as they had a year ago. And the Fever shot just 59% from the free throw line. Last season, Indiana was second in the WNBA and shot a franchise-best 82% from the free throw line.

The bright spots? Indiana was a tough defensive team in 2009 and I believe that will continue to be a staple in 2010. The Fever forced 26 Washington turnovers and scored 27 points, and Atlanta turned it over 19 times leading to 16 points. Those numbers gave the Fever a chance to win a pair of games even when they didn’t play well. Defense can be a constant and I expect that to be the case in 2010.

So if last year is any indication, it’s not time to panic just two games into the season. Let’s give these players a chance to get some sleep, some practice time and the opportunity to win games against Chicago this weekend.

May 12, 2010
Fresh off the best season in franchise history, the Indiana Fever open their 11th season Saturday night when the Washington Mystics visit Conseco Fieldhouse.  The summer of 2009 was quite a run for the Fever, advancing to their first WNBA Finals before losing to Phoenix in the best of five series.  And I’ll be a part of it for an 11th straight year, handling games both on radio and television.

I’ll also blog on a regular basis this summer, and my first installment looks at this season’s Fever team and the rest of the WNBA.

The Fever have made five straight trips to the post-season, and posted a 23-11 regular-season record last summer despite starting 0-2 and losing seven of their final 10 games.  After the initial bump in the road, Indiana won 20 of 22 and virtually ran away to the top spot in the Eastern Conference.  Indiana returns 10 of its 11 players from last season, so continuity figures to be the Fever calling card.  First round pick Jene Morris figures to replace retiring veteran Tamecka Dixon, and a couple of other roster spots could change before Saturday night.

The big story, however, is the fact that four of Indiana’s starters have missed all of training camp while playing for a championship in Turkey.  Tamika Catching and Katie Douglas play for one team, while Tammy Sutton-Brown and Ebony Hoffman play for the other.  They missed both pre-season games against Chicago, but fortunately know Coach Lin Dunn’s system and were key performers in last season’s run to an Eastern Conference title.

Catchings and Douglas paced Indiana in scoring in 2009, and Catch had an outstanding post-season.  Sutton-Brown was consistent most of the year, while Hoffman played in the playoffs like she played in 2008 when she was the WNBA’s Most Improved Player.  The Fever need these four veterans to carry a big load in 2010.

But the key to Indiana’s return to the WNBA Finals may be the play of second-year guard Briann January.  January enjoyed an outstanding 2009 post-season, and she will start in 2010 after playing behind Tully Bevilaqua last season.  Bevilaqua will key a veteran bench that will include “Jessica squared”, Davenport and Moore, Shay Murphy and Morris.  Christina Worth returns, but will have to hold off Duke rookie Joy Cheek for the final roster spot.

While Indiana’s roster sees little change, the 14th season of WNBA basketball features one less team from a year ago and a team and plenty of players sporting new addresses.  

Sacramento folded the Monarchs’ franchise and the three-time champion Shock moved from Detroit to Tulsa.  Phoenix won its second title last summer, but participated in a blockbuster three-team trade that sent WNBA First-Team selection Cappie Pondexter to New York.  Former Liberty veterans Shameka Christon and Catherine Kraayeveld now call Chicago home and former Sky forward Candace Dupree is now in Phoenix.

Lindsay Whalen played college basketball at Minnesota.  Now she plays for the hometown Lynx after Connecticut traded her for former UConn Huskie Renee Montgomery.  Katie Smith didn’t accompany the Shock to Tulsa and neither did backcourt running mate Deanna Nolan.  Nolan won’t play in 2010, but Smith will suit up for Washington and play against the Fever on Saturday night.

With Sacramento’s franchise gone, Nicole Powell will play in New York and is now joined by veteran Taj McWilliams.  And Indiana native Shanna Crossley (formerly Zolman) will play her first season in Tulsa.

Washington will play the summer without All-Star Alana Beard, out with injury, while Tina Thompson is the last player left from the WNBA’s inaugural season.  Dixon retired and so did Lisa Leslie, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer with the LA Sparks.

As for how the season will play out, it’s always important to start quick because it’s a short 34-game season.  In the Eastern Conference, the Fever have to be the returning favorite but not having four starters in training camp could hurt Indiana early in the season.  I think Washington has a talented, young team, and Smith will give them a veteran presence despite the loss of Beard.  Pondexter gives the Liberty a whole new feel, and Connecticut and Chicago also sport brand new looks.  The Sun have a truly UConn feel with Montgomery joined by this year’s top draft pick, Tina Charles while Chicago’s new additions play around outstanding center Sylvia Fowles.  Atlanta finished second in the East last season and boast one of the most athletic teams in the league.

In the Western Conference, Phoenix has Diana Taurasi and has to be the favorite, but the Mercury missed the playoffs the season after their first WNBA title in 2007.  San Antonio has the dynamic duo of Becky Hammon and Sophia Young, but suffered a loss when Ann Wauters decided not to return to the WNBA.  LA has Thompson and Candace Parker, while Minnesota added Whalen to a loaded, young team led by Simone Augustus, Nicky Anosike and Candace Wiggins.  Seattle is always solid when you are built around Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, and the Shock now play in the West under legendary men’s collegiate coach Nolan Richardson.

Well, that’s a lot for my initial blog of the season, but it should get you caught up as another season starts on Saturday night.  Then it’s a quick turn-around with the first road game on Sunday in Atlanta.  
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