Insider Preview - Storm vs. Indiana
Friday, June 25, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 1150 AM KKNW
LiveAccess: Live Video
Promotion: Sue Bird bobblehead giveaway (first 4,000 fans).
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com
The Eastern Conference standings may show the Atlanta Dream ahead of the Indiana Fever, but right now nobody in the East is playing better basketball than the Fever. Since the calendar turned to June, the Fever has won six out of seven games, including sweeping a recent three-game homestand that featured games against the other top three teams in the league - the Dream, the Connecticut Sun and the Seattle Storm.
Indiana has outscored its opposition by 6.2 points per game this season, the league's second-best mark after the Storm and superior to anyone else in the East. Considering the Fever is also the defending conference champions, having taken the Phoenix Mercury to a full five games in last year's WNBA Finals, Indiana still appears to deserve the title of favorites in the East.
"I really feel strongly that they're going to be a contender for the Eastern Conference championship," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "I know there's some other good teams there, and that's not to disrespect anybody, but Indiana is good. They've been there last year. They tasted it and came up short. I'm sure that's sitting with them right now."
The Fever took some time to get going because four of the team's five starters played in the Turkish TBBL Finals, which wrapped up days before the start of the season. Indiana dropped consecutive games the season's first weekend and stood 2-3 at the end of May, but since then the only blemish on the team's record is a loss at Connecticut in the first of a home-and-home series between the teams.
As always, the Fever's trademark is excellence at the defensive end of the floor. Indiana's Defensive Rating of 92.9 points allowed per 100 possessions leads the WNBA. The Fever is also tops in two of the components of defense - stifling opponent shooting (allowing 45.1 percent effective field-goal shooting, which counts each three as 1.5 field goals to account for their value) and forcing turnovers (22.0 percent of opponent possessions, far and away the league's best mark).
Usually, teams that defend the shot well tend not to force a lot of turnovers because they are avoiding unnecessary risks and staying at home defensively. What makes Indiana so impressive, then, is the ability to do both. That starts with a scheme that has its roots in Seattle, where Fever Assistant Coach Gary Kloppenburg first worked with Head Coach Lin Dunn when both were with the Storm. Long before that, Kloppenburg's father Bob made his XO Pressure Defense famous as an assistant coach for the NBA's SuperSonics.
Of course, no scheme will work without defensive talent, and Indiana has some of the best in the league. All three wing starters (former Storm guard Tully Bevilaqua and All-Stars Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings) have been All-Defensive First Team picks, and Catchings is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year pick. Up front, starters Tammy Sutton-Brown and Ebony Hoffman provide a strong combination of size and mobility.
Opponents on the Storm are impressed.
"What do we always talk about? Defense," said guard Sue Bird, noting the similarity in the teams' approaches. "We want to be the best defensive team. They're the one team ahead of us in a lot of categories."
That makes this game, in Bird's words, "a challenge" and "a measuring stick." As much respect as the Storm has for Indiana, the team was disappointed with its performance in last week's loss at Conseco Fieldhouse. Early turnovers helped keep the Storm from building a lead when the team's shots were falling, and the Storm struggled to execute later in the game.
The Storm must also tighten up its defense compared to that meeting. While Fever stars Catchings and Douglas were held in check, Indiana's bench scored a combined 25 points and Indiana kept possessions alive with 14 offensive rebounds. The game was one of just two times all year the Storm has been outrebounded in percentage terms.
For the Storm, the week's best news is that Bird was able to go through practices on Wednesday and Thursday and had no limitations the day before the game. While Bird said her left knee remains somewhat stiff after it hyperflexed in Sunday's win over San Antonio, she will start.
"She looked like Sue," said Agler, evaluating her performance during practice.
|Small forwards Catchings and Swin Cash could be teammates on the U.S. National Team for this summer's FIBA World Championship, as they were during the 2004 Olympics. Catchings, who has swung between both forward positions during her career, has mostly settled in at small forward the last two seasons. Her size can cause a lot of opponents problems there, but not Cash, who also has the ability to move to the four at times. Catchings was held in check last week, finishing with just 12 points, but she made a major impact at the other end of the floor. Cash shot just 2-of-10 from the field against one of the league's top individual and team defenders.|
The Fever snapped a five-game Storm winning streak last Thursday with a 72-65 victory at the Conseco Fieldhouse. In the early going, the Storm offense was clicking, scoring on its first seven possessions to take an early 15-6 lead and hold a 27-22 advantage after one quarter. From there, the league's best defense stiffened, forcing Storm turnovers and limiting high-percentage looks. Shavonte Zellous made a three-pointer late in the third quarter to unbreak a 50-all tie and give the Fever the lead for good. The Storm was never out of it, but was scoreless after Bird's three-pointer got the team within six with 1:30 on the clock.The Storm shot 5-of-24 from three-point range (20.8 percent) and turned the ball over 16 times. Lauren Jackson led the Storm with 17 points and nine rebounds, but did most of her damage in the second half at the charity stripe and was 1-of-7 beyond the arc. Bird had 15 points and five steals, and Camille Little was the other Storm player in double-figures with 12. Just two Indiana players reached double-digit scoring, with eight different Fever players contributing at least five points.
Storm - None.
Indiana - None.