Series Preview: Fever vs Mystics
The Fever motto, “Our Time Is Now!,” is most relevant as the playoffs kick off this week. Indiana finished the season a franchise-record 22-12, but struggled its past ten games, losing seven of those. Washington (16-18) owned a tiebreaker and beat the Connecticut Sun (16-18) and the Chicago Sky (16-18) for the fourth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.
Washington also enters the playoffs not playing its best ball of the season. In the Mystics’ last ten games, they went 4-6. But three of their wins were against the Phoenix Mercury, Seattle Storm and Atlanta Dream, all playoff teams.
The Fever lost its last regular season game against the Connecticut Sun, 95-84. Katie Douglas and Tammy-Sutton Brown both sat to nurse injuries while the regular starters rested in a game that was meaningless to playoffs seeding. Neither team has momentum entering the best-of-three series.
“You would rather go in with momentum, but obviously KT and Tammy sat out our last game,” said Tamika Catchings, who played in all 34 games. “Ebony, myself and Tully played limited minutes. Jess Moore got little injured, we were looking at that last game to keep people healthy for the first playoff game.”
Sometimes losing can be a good thing for a team, though.
“Everyone wants to win, you try to go out and win every single game,” said Sutton-Brown. “Sometimes losses can be beneficial, in that they make you refocus and they make you see some of the things you weren’t necessarily paying attention to when you were winning. It can have benefit, if you learn through the losses and the experiences.”
The Fever did not have to deal with any losses from the Mystics this season. Indiana went 4-0 against Washington, winning by an average of 8.8 points a game.
Do the four victories this season matter now?
“Once you get in the playoffs those records from the regular season vanish,” said Sutton-Brown. “It is like a new season now. It is 0-0.”
Along with the new season, comes a new intensity, a new challenge, playoff basketball.
“They are going to up their intensity just like we are going to have to up our intensity,” said Sutton-Brown. “If we are focused and we take them one game at a time, there is no reason not to believe we can win and advance to the conference finals.”
The intensity and physicality rise greatly in the WNBA Playoffs because in the first two rounds, with just one loss, a team is on the brink of elimination.
“It’s win or go home,” said Catchings. “You have to come out with that mentality, that mindset that every possession counts. Offensively, defensively you can’t afford to take a possession off. That is the mentality we have to have. We have to be more focused, our defense has to step up big time.”
Game 1 is a home game for the Mystics, but will not be played at their normal venue, the Verizon Center. A scheduling conflict with “Walking with Dinosaurs” has moved the game to the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center.
Game 2 will be played Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse, at 7 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 will take place Monday at 8 p.m., at Conseco Fieldhouse. Will the change of venues affect either team?
“You have to adjust to wherever you are,” said Sutton-Brown. “You definitely have to adjust to your environment but at the same time the court is still the same dimensions. When it boils down to it, it might take a few possessions just to get adjusted, but it is easy to adjust and after a while, you do.”
Despite its 0-4 record against the Fever, Washington is a young, formidable opponent. Alana Beard averages a team-high 15.9 points per game while Lindsey Harding and Crystal Langhorne combine for 24.8.
Scoring might not even be their best strength.
“They rebound really well. That is a big part of their game,” said Sutton-Brown. “When you get more rebounds you get more opportunities to shoot the ball and score. Something that we have been focusing on is keeping them from getting rebounds and not giving up second chance or extra opportunities.”
Finally, the series presents a matchup pitting former Indiana assistant coaches. Lin Dunn, who has been with the Fever franchise for seven years including four as an assistant coach, is now in her second year as the Fever boss. Her Mystics counterpart is Julie Plank, a Fever assistant for the franchise’ first eight seasons. They were coaching mates through four seasons (2004-07) under former coach Brian Winters. When Dunn was named the Fever’s head coach prior to the 2008 season, Plank joined the Minnesota Lynx before assuming head duties with the Mystics this summer, guiding the club’s return to the playoffs in her first season.
For Dunn and the experienced, balanced Fever, now is the time to re-focus and regain the momentum that led to Eastern Conference domination the first three months of the season.