Fever Rebound Key to Strong Finish

By Tom Rietmann | July 24, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- “This is about toughness,” Lin Dunn told her players in no uncertain terms.  “You gotta get tougher.”

The voice of the Indiana Fever coach had a razor-sharp edge during Monday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The subject was rebounding. More specifically, it involved block-out techniques that lead to sound rebounding. Failure to block out, Dunn indicated repeatedly, would not be an option.

The Indiana team is in the early stages of three weeks of practice as the WNBA breaks for the Olympic Games in London. Dunn's emphasis as the Fever prepares for the season's second half is improving as a rebounding club. That improvement could hold the key for Indiana, 10-7 with 17 games to play, to make a much-desired run deep in the league playoffs.

“It's one thing to talk about it and another thing to consistently drill it,” Dunn said about her team's rebounding. “I think as a staff, we've probably fallen short in putting them in situations where rebounding becomes a habit. It's nice when you have seven or eight players who already have great rebounding habits. We don't have that. We don't have a lot of natural rebounders.

“We have to make rebounding a habit, and that comes from just doing the elementary drills. Some of the drills we've done, I'm sure, the players did them in junior high and high school and college. We have to reward for rebounding. We have to punish when we don't do it. There has to be that attention to detail.”

The Fever ranks No. 10 overall in rebounding in the 12-team WNBA. Indiana is 11th in offensive rebounds.

Indiana's last game before the break clearly depicted the team's rebounding deficiencies. In a 77-74 loss to Los Angeles, the Fever surrendered 23 offensive rebounds and 33 second-chance points to the visiting Sparks.

Through the first 17 games, Indiana gave up an average of 11.71 offensive rebounds per outing, which was second-worst in the WNBA.

“I'm not going to talk about (rebounding) anymore. I'm going to drill it. Every day,” Dunn said.

Indiana's roster is loaded with strong shooters and scorers. The team is averaging nearly 80 points a game, easily the best in franchise history. With just a little improvement on the glass, Indiana will have good possibilities of realizing its postseason dreams.

“Here's our goal,” Dunn said as she considered the league's rebounding rankings. “Instead of being 10, 11 or 12, let's be five or six or seven. We don't have to be first. I'm not asking them to lead the league in rebounding. I'm not even asking them to be top three.

“What I'm asking them to be is middle of the pack. That's good enough, in my opinion, to get us to the (WNBA) Finals. If we can go from 11-12 to 6-7, then we've made huge progress and it'll win three more games for us.”

Dunn took some time to assess other aspects of the Fever season's first half. She talked about the pleasant surprises, in particular the way point guard Briann January has returned from knee surgery to become a consistent force. January, averaging 10.5 points, is among the league leaders in free throw percentage (.913, 42-of-46) and assists (3.6 per game).

Dunn also likes the way January, Erin Phillips, Katie Douglas and Jeanette Pohlen all have shown the versatility to play both guard positions. That's enabled the Fever to freely rotate the foursome yet not lose any accuracy from the 3-point arc. Indiana, hitting an average of 8.47 3-pointers per game, is on pace to eclipse the league record of 8.32, set by Phoenix in 2007. 

In the repairs-needed category, the Fever coach is looking for improved defensive play in the second half. Indiana is giving up 76.1 points per game, which puts the club in the lower half of the WNBA. If opponents continue to score at that clip, it will mark the highest defensive average in Indiana franchise history.

“I don't think we've defended consistently as well as we have in the past,” Dunn said. “But we're a little older. We're not quite as young and frisky as we used to be. When we have rest and energy, we really do defend at a high level. When we're fatigued, we struggle a little with some of our defensive rotations.”

The Fever wants to go into the second half, which begins with an Aug. 16 home game against Washington, with fresh legs and robust health. Indiana's workouts during the Olympic break will be structured accordingly. It also is hoped that Tamika Catchings, the Fever's only player in the Olympics, can ramp up for the rest of WNBA season upon her return from the tough international competition.

“We know Catch is going to come back from the Olympics fatigued, and we're going to have to give her some extra days,” Dunn said. “We're just hoping she can get one practice in with us to review everything before we start.”

Dunn isn't unhappy with her club's 10-7 record but expressed the opinion it could have been 12-5 with a few extra rebounds or timely defensive stops. Indiana is currently second in the Eastern Conference, four games behind Connecticut and two ahead of Atlanta and Chicago.

“What we talk about is, 'What do we need to do to get to the (WNBA) Finals?'” the coach said. “What we're trying to do is just get better and position ourselves to get into the playoffs with the one or two seeds, and then you have some home-court situations.

“I really believe that we have to defend at a higher level, and we've got to continue to get better with our rebounding. I also think we have to get some more points out of our center position on the low block. We've been trying to do that, but we haven't done that consistently. We're better when we can get some more inside-out (offense). We've already proven we can hit the 3, but if we don't get more shots in the paint, then (defenses) are really going to be all over our 3-point shooters.”