Fever at Sun

Even if Tamika Catchings returns to the Indiana Fever lineup, they will likely be in for a challenge against the Connecticut Sun in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Catchings, who has been out with a left foot injury since late July, could possibly be ready when the second-seeded Fever open their best-of-three series against the No. 3 Sun in Connecticut on Thursday.

Catchings, a perennial All-Star and the team's leading scorer and rebounder at 16.6 points and 9.0 boards per game, practiced Monday and Tuesday in an attempt to return to the court for the first time since July 20.

"It was nice to be able to come out and do what I was able to do with the team," said Catchings, who is averaging 17.5 points in nine career playoff games. "I'm very excited to be out there."

Indiana went 16-5 before Catchings was injured and then lost eight of its first 11 without her before winning its final two games against playoff-bound teams San Antonio and Detroit.

"We're a good team without her, and a great team with her," Indiana's Tamika Whitmore said.

Having Catchings on the court might not matter, though, for the Fever (21-13), who lost all four regular-season contests against the Sun (18-16), including the first two with Catchings scoring a total of 17 points and grabbing 23 rebounds. Three of the four games, however, were decided by five points or less.

"We are not that far off," said Fever guard Anna DeForge, who scored a career-high 29 points in a 77-74 loss to the Sun on Aug. 15 in the teams' most recent meeting. "One less turnover or one more rebound could have been the difference in any of those games. We need to take care of the ball and for that there is no strategy."

DeForge and Tammy Sutton-Brown, who was second on Indiana at 12.0 points per game, each averaged 12.5 points this season against Connecticut.

Heading into the playoffs for a third straight season, the Fever should have some momentum after winning their final two regular-season games. The Sun, meanwhile, dropped their final two contests and three of their last four, including a 76-74 defeat to Washington on Sunday.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed with the last two games," said Sun guard Lindsay Whalen, who averaged 12.0 points against Indiana in 2007. "But at the same time, it's playoff time and we got ourselves in the position to be in the playoffs. Now we have to go in and take it one game at a time."

Connecticut was 26-8 and had the league's best record in 2006, but lost to eventual WNBA champion Detroit in the conference finals, ending its bid to reach the league finals for a third straight season. The Sun beat the Fever in two games in the first round of the 2005 playoffs in the teams' only previous postseason meeting.

Despite their recent struggles, the Sun should have some confidence facing Indiana. Connecticut shot 43.7 percent against the Fever and forced an average of 16.7 turnovers during the four meetings in 2007.

Katie Douglas, Connecticut's leading scorer at 17.0 points per game, averaged 19.2 against the Fever this season. The veteran guard, though, is averaging only 10.6 points in 24 playoff games.

The Sun were just 8-9 at home in 2007, but went 10-7 on the road. This series will move to Indiana for Game 2 on Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, on Monday.

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