Fast getaway bolsters Fever squad

By Tom Rietmann | May 30, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever team, 3-0 after a pair of impressive road victories, is off to its best start since 2007. Numerous reasons exist for the fast getaway, but perhaps none is more important than Indiana's clampdown on opposing offenses.

The Fever has held its first three opponents to an average of 72.7 points, outscoring them by almost 12 a game. Indiana has harassed opponents into 22.0 turnovers a game while averaging 12.7 steals. The Fever also has held opponents to a 20 percent mark from the 3-point line (8 of 40).

Fever forward Tamika Catchings calls it “our defensive intensity.” It's what Indiana needs for any successful launch.

But as the Fever prepares for this weekend's double-dip against the New York Liberty -- at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday and at Newark, N.J., on Sunday -- other factors jump out about the team's strong start. It begins with the consistent, high-scoring production of Catchings, who is averaging 21.0 points a game with 7.3 rebounds, and Katie Douglas, who is at 19.3 points.

For Catchings, who is playing mostly power forward for the first time in her WNBA career, it has been a satisfying early season. Catchings' position switch is forcing defenses to decide whether to focus on her as she maneuvers around the floor or worry about the Fever's 3-point shooters in a three-guard lineup. Indiana is among the WNBA leaders from the 3-point arc, hitting 38.2 percent (21-of-55).

 “It kind of opens up a lot of different options for the team,” Catchings said about her new position. “Guarding us is hard. Who are you going to come off of?

 “We'll continue to get better and build off of it,” she added. “I feel like we're all getting more confident with me at the four (power forward).”

Coach Lin Dunn likes the results, too. Because Catchings no longer is chasing the opposing small forward around the court, her energy and legs are fresher. Plus, Indiana's plan provides Catchings, last year's league MVP, with a lot of leeway.

“We're getting her in the middle of the floor a lot more,” Dunn said. “She gets to bring the ball down the floor as a four player, which most four players in this league don't do. We move her around a lot more than a lot of four players. And she's really helping us, too, by taking other four players off the dribble. And then we have spot-up shooters around her.

“She has guard skills at the power forward position. So far, we've been real pleased with it.”

Indiana continues to slash and drive the ball enough to get to the free throw line and has made 64-of-77 there (83.1 percent). If the Fever continues to combine that kind of foul shooting with 3-point marksmanship and solid defense, the team will be hard to beat in its quest to return to the WNBA Finals.

Also, Dunn won't hesitate in 2012 to rely on what she views as the deepest, most experienced group of reserves the team has had in her nine years as an assistant and head coach.

Dunn is especially pleased with how Erlana Larkins and rookie Sasha Goodlett have performed as backups to post players Tammy Sutton-Brown and Jessica Davenport. The Fever's newest assistant coach, Mickie DeMoss, has used her expertise to help the entire group of post players. And Goodlett, the Fever's first-round draft pick from Georgia Tech, has contributed even faster than the team expected.

“She's not playing like a rookie,” Dunn said. “Sasha, with her physical play, is challenging the other post players for minutes. Larkins and Sasha are physical post players. They like contact. They initiate contact. Tammy and Davenport are more finesse-type post players. They're giving us a dimension we haven't had before. Sasha gets better every day.”

And point guards Erin Phillips and Briann January are working hard to feed the post. Each is averaging about 20 minutes a game. They have combined for 18 assists. Douglas, who occasionally plays point guard, has seven assists.

Phillips, a native Australian, will play for her national team in the Olympics and is expected to miss a few Fever games ahead of the WNBA's Olympic break in mid-July.

“We're really working on getting both Erin and Bri quality minutes and not wearing either out,” Dunn said. “We know there's going to come a time when Erin will miss some games. And we want Bri to be ready.

“I think they complement each other. What Bri has really given us off the bench is her defense. She's defending at a very high level. There's not another point guard in this league, I don't think, who can get by her. Having those two together, I think, is a huge plus.”

Dunn remains low-key and cautious about the Fever's unbeaten start. It includes home and road victories over Atlanta, which went to the league finals last year, and a road win at Chicago.

“It's nice to start 3-0,” the coach said, “but the good news about that is winning two on the road. It's tough to win on the road in this league. Nothing came easy. But you don't want to get a little complacent there.”