Persistence, improved shooting are Fever keys

By Tom Rietmann | July 20, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- When a seven-game winning streak elevated the Indiana Fever to the top of the Eastern Conference earlier this month, the rest of the WNBA noticed. And opposing coaches went to work.

Opponents' defensive schemes got more aggressive. And disruptive. And harassing. Turn up the heat, they figured, and hold down the Indiana shooting percentage.

“They're in the passing lanes. They're bumping. They're physical,” Indiana point guard Erin Phillips said about opposing defenses. “Every girl on this team has a bruise, for sure, on their arms or legs.

“But that's being the hunted,” Phillips added. “That's being on top of the East and everybody wants to get you.”

That seven-game winning streak is a memory now, replaced by a three-game losing streak. Indiana (10-6) dropped to second place, percentage points behind Connecticut (9-5). The Fever will face Chicago (8-8) on Thursday night in Conseco Fieldhouse in the final game before the WNBA All-Star break.

After its winning streak, Indiana was shooting 44.9 percent from the field, which was fourth in the league. The Fever was hitting 3-pointers at a 40.5 percent clip, second in the league.

However, in the three-game skid, Indiana's field goal mark has dipped to 40.7 percent (79-of-194). The team's 3-point accuracy is just 27.7 percent (15-of-54).

A difficult schedule recently has left the Fever with little time for practice and game-day shootarounds.  Also factoring in, perhaps, has been fatigue from travel.

“I think it's a combination of things,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said about the shooting percentages. “We've gone away from the rhythm we developed, just little things like that. We're rhythm shooters.

“I do think when we don't shoot well, some of our weaknesses are exploited a little bit. There have been some games where we didn't play exceptionally well maybe defensively, and got outrebounded, but we shot 50 percent. So we won. But when you shoot 39 or 40 percent, it kind of bites you.”

Balanced scoring is the key, Dunn said. In a loss Tuesday at Atlanta, Indiana put only three players in double-digit scoring. The same thing happened in a loss Sunday at Connecticut. Indiana is typically at its best when at least five players are in double figures and the bench is highly productive.

Guard Katie Douglas, one of the WNBA's top shooters, averaged 16.4 points through the Fever's first 13 games. But she has scored 10, 12 and four in the past three games while hitting 10-of-30 shots against defenses that shadowed her everywhere.

“We need to do a better job of setting people up,” said forward Tamika Catchings, who has led the Fever with 22, 18 and 22 points the past three games. “Katie is having to create a lot more than she did in the wins. We need to figure out a way to set some screens away, pin away for her, get her some wide-open looks so she's not having to create as much.”

At Atlanta, Dunn tinkered with the starting lineup, going with three guards -- Phillips, Douglas and Shavonte Zellous -- with Catchings and Tammy Sutton-Brown in the front court. The idea was to reinforce the Fever's rebounding. The final rebounding numbers were close -- 43-40 in Atlanta's favor -- but Dunn said the changes perhaps affected Indiana's scoring ability in the 84-74 loss.

“We'll probably go back to the lineup we've been using all along,” Dunn said, “and mix Catch up some at the (small forward) and the (power forward) but get her back starting at the (small forward).”

One number that especially bothered Dunn at Atlanta was 23 fast-break points for the Dream.

“I thought our wings were a little sluggish running down the floor and their wings were flying down the floor,” the coach said. “They just ran right through us. When that happens in somebody else's gym, you are in trouble.”

Dunn emphasizes that persistence is the key for Indiana. The Fever went through a brisk, upbeat practice Wednesday, setting a nice tone, according to Catchings.

“It has been frustrating. We just need to regroup,” the Fever star said. “At this point there is nothing else we can talk about. We had a good practice. Everybody (needs) to get off their feet tonight. We're at home (against Chicago), so we need to take care of home court.”