Every Game is a Big Game in This Year’s East

By Jeremy Rosenthal | June 18, 2010
Through the first 10 games of last season, the Indiana Fever was the only team in the Eastern Conference with a record above the .500 mark. The Fever took control of the East early last season, held a large lead at the midway point and never looked back. This year, four teams in the East are above .500 and a slugfest is brewing for conference supremacy the rest of the way.

After claiming the conference’s best record with 22 wins and winning its first Eastern Conference championship, the Fever knows this year brings new challenges.

Veteran forward Ebony Hoffman said she feels that no two years are alike.

“We can’t expect to have the same year as we did last year,” Hoffman said. “Teams are gunning for us. We are no longer the underdog, now we have a bulls-eye on our back. Every team comes in here and sees the championship banner. People are a lot tougher. Teams don’t have the same weaknesses that they used to have and we have to be better.”

The competitiveness is something Tammy Sutton-Brown said she appreciates and thrives on.

“As an athlete you always like great competition. I think that’s the reason the WNBA is the top league in the world, because you do have great competition night in and night out. Even the teams at the bottom, on any given night, can knock off the teams at the top.”

The Chicago Sky, the current last-place team in the East with a record of 4-7 and who started the season with four straight losses, owned the WNBA’s only win over Seattle prior to the Fever’s 72-65 victory over the Storm on Friday.

Chicago has also beaten the number one team in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Dream, who visits Conseco Fieldhouse on Saturday. Two years ago, expansion Dream finished with a disappointing record at 4-30. Last year, they made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and now sit atop their conference standings.

Every team in the East has its own improvement story and all six teams are contenders.

Tully Bevilaqua, who won a championship with Seattle in 2004, said the elevated play in the WNBA is great for both the players and fans.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Bevilaqua said. “It’s making us better individually, as players, and it’s a win-win for the fans because what they are seeing is a higher level of performance on the court.”

Part of the reason for more balance in the Eastern Conference is teams had an opportunity to bolster their rosters in the dispersal draft with the departure of the Sacramento Monarchs.

The New York Liberty made the most of the opportunity, drafting All-Star Nicole Powell. The Liberty also benefited from a trade with Phoenix and Chicago, which brought 2007 WNBA Finals MVP Cappie Pondexter to the Big Apple. Connecticut gathered slick point guard Renee Montgomery in a trade with Minnesota, and added another former UConn Huskies star Tina Charles with the first pick in the college draft.

With teams improving every year and only a 34-game regular season for the WNBA, it places a greater emphasis on every game.

“Every game is a big game,” said Hoffman.

After the Fever’s game against Atlanta tomorrow night, Indiana begins a four-game road trip in which they face Seattle again, along with two games at Chicago and an ESPN nationally televised game at Washington, June 29.

Bevilaqua said it is important for her team to come out with energy and emotion in every game.

“It’s hard to stay at the top,” she said. “You’ve got to keep on working hard and bring your A game every day. That’s something we need to be focused on, because we cannot come out with a B game and expect to win. It’s too close this year to drop your guard.”

PROMO: Saturday’s game at Conseco Fieldhouse is Dad’s Night Out presented by The Hoosier Lottery. Dads can purchase lower level seats for just $10 at the Conseco Fieldhouse Box Office, or club level seats for just $5.