A guide to the Conference Finals
Eight Questions and Answers
With Ann Meyers, WNBA.com
How far can Tamika Catchings carry the Indiana Fever?
I don't think that Tamika Catchings does need to carry the Indiana Fever all by herself. She has certainly had a terrific year and as Catchings goes, so go the Fever. But Tully Bevilaqua has had a very big impact and Natalie Williams, who has announced her retirement at the end of the season, has had a very solid year for them. Players with their experience and their knowledge of the game are so valuable this time of year. Kelly Miller has also been very solid, their bench has been strong, and the return of Jurgita Streimikyte gives them a well-rounded team. The Fever make other teams play ugly because they play such hard defense. Just look at some of the scores in their games. They held the Liberty to 50 points per game in the opening round. Even in games where they have been held to few points, their defense has carried the day for them and the whole team as well as the coaching staff deserve credit for that.
How does Sacramento limit the dominance of Sheryl Swoopes?
Sheryl Swoopes has her second triple-double of her career in a big game. Enough cannot be said about her, especially after a lot of people in and around the game thought her career was on the decline. They said she was too old, injured or didn't have the heart anymore. She was on the trading bloc. But she is healthy, motivated and has a fresh mindset. Someone said something to her that challenged her when she was playing overseas in Russia and it just flipped a switch. And I applaud her for her professionalism, admire how she came back with the Comets and didn't let the trade rumors affect her and she has played with a lot of pride. She had to step up with Tina Thompson out. but she is also such a team player. She does so many things, and you saw it in the Seattle series, where she can make adjustments in her game. She does more than go left and shoot threes. When she gets inside the lane, she can pass and rebound and shows great leadership. But with the teammates she has around her, you can look to stop her or contain her, but Swoopes will find a way to get the other players involved and cause the Monarchs concern. They have four Olympians, an All-Star center and a very good bench.
Does a good defense beat a good offense in the Playoffs?
I think you need to have both to be successful. Connecticut led the league in field goal percentage and defensive field goal percentage, so the Sun are no slouches as far as their defense is concerned. Sacramento and Indiana were the top two defensive teams in the regular season and look what Houston did to Seattle in the last two games of that series. Defense does win championships, but it also creates your offense. Indiana struggled with their offense at times during the regular season, but they played a little bit better against New York in the first round. The Fever are not an explosive team and won't put a tremendous number of points on the board consistently, but they will make it difficult for the opposing team to do so. But they are playing the Sun, the number one scoring team for much of the season. They have a lot of different weapons.
Were the Comets overlooked this season?
They may have been overlooked because of their 2004 season, but this is a talented team. Houston will always be Houston because of what they have accomplished in their history. Their four championships follow them. The nucleus is still there to an extent, but you have to make changes and get younger and insert different pieces into the puzzle. No one know what this team had coming into the season. A lot of "experts" had them sixth, just above San Antonio. People also had Sacramento rated very low. They have six new faces. But you cannot overlook Houston now, not after what they did to the Storm. I expect Sacramento to be ready for them.
How important is home court advantage?
The Eastern Conference Series will be a good matchup because Indiana is one of the few teams to beat Connecticut at their arena. That is a big psychological factor. And these teams saw what Houston did in the last round, winning twice in Seattle. Neither of the two top-seeds' coaches, Mike Thibault or John Whisenant, will underestimate their opponents. But the first game is always a huge game in a best-of-three series. The first game dictates the series. Whoever wins puts the other team's back against the wall right off the bat. If the higher seed can win a game on the road, they certainly don't want to lose their first game at home. That is a killer.
Which player or players step it up in the next round or should teams watch out for and fans keep an eye on?
With Connecticut, you have to look at Asjha Jones. She may not start, but she and Margo Dydek really complement each other's games. With Indiana, I think Natalie Williams will be a key, but I'm not sure anyone off the bench will come in and take overFor them, it will be a team effort fed off of their defense. Dawn Staley in Houston has made a huge difference on that team as far as solidifying the backcourt goes. And that is not to take anything away from Dominique Canty, who has done a great job this season playing in a position that she is not quite as comfortable in and probably not as effective. But Canty went overseas and worked on her point guard skills, and you have to applaud her for getting them there. Michelle Snow has proven why she is an All-Star.
What is a key matchup to watch for?
Can Tully Bevilaqua play the kind of defense she did in Round One against Lindsay Whalen? That is the key matchup. They are two point guards who are strong and can score in different ways. They lead their offenses and will be tough. At this point, I think Lindsay Whalen is the top point guard in the league.
Who wins it all?
I think Sacramento and the Sun have to be your favorites with the records that they have, their consistency and their home court dominance. They can beat you in a lot of different ways: On the boards, with their defense, with passing, with players that can go one-on-one and even their shooting. Connecticut will be motivated after coming close last year and they feel like they don't get the respect they deserve.