Healthy and Rested Catchings Leading Another Late-Season Charge

By Wheat Hotchkiss | August 20, 2014

It is no coincidence that the Indiana Fever's best three-game stretch of the regular season coincided with Tamika Catchings' best stretch thus far in 2014.

The Fever rattled off three big wins last week, winning at New York on Aug. 10 and then defeating the Liberty and the Chicago Sky in a pair of home contests on Aug. 14 and 16. As a result of those three victories, Indiana went from being in danger of possibly missing out on the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons to having homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

In each of those three key games, the Fever jumped out to a brilliant start, taking a commanding double-digit lead in the first half and holding on to preserve the victory in the second. And in every game, Catchings was Indiana's catalyst, averaging 23 points and seven rebounds on 53.8 percent shooting in the three biggest wins in the Fever's season to-date.

Those three games were the highlight of a strong overall month for Catchings, who was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for August by the WNBA on Wednesday. It is the third Player of the Month award for Catchings, who also received the honor in July 2010 and August 2012 (the Player of the Month award has only existed since the 2010 season).

PHOTO GALLERY: Catchings Named Player of Month

Overall, Catchings averaged 16.7 points per game in August (best in the Eastern Conference) to go along with 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals. She played in six games before sitting out the Fever's regular season finale on Sept. 17 in New York to get a little extra rest before the playoffs.

Rest may be the secret to Catchings' recent strong play.

The nine-time All-Star missed the Fever's first 17 games with a back injury. Normally when a player starts their season late because of injury, it takes them at least few weeks to get back to playing at their highest level. But Catchings was great early in her return: she hit the game-winning shot against Tulsa in just her second game back, scored 25 points in two straight games before the All-Star break, and then was the hero in the East's All-Star victory.

But Catchings had some uncharacteristic struggles after the All-Star break. She went 0-for-8 from the field and finished with just one point on July 26 in San Antonio, then went 0-for-10 form the field on Aug. 2 against Phoenix.

Shortly after the Fever return from their West Coast road trip in early August, Catchings and the Fever coaching staff both made some adjustments that have paid big dividends for Indiana.

Catchings made changes to her pregame warm-up routine, cutting back on the amount of time she spent getting up shots.

"(I'm) just trying to be more conscious of conserving energy early so that starting the game, (I) can start off and go for the whole 40 minutes if I have to," Catchings said of her modified routine.

The difference was apparent in New York two weekends ago, when Catchings scored 29 points in as many minutes on 11-for-19 shooting (hitting 4-of-5 attempts from 3-point range) in the victory that started Indiana's three-game streak. She tallied 15 points, nine rebounds, and four steals in last Thursday's win that clinched the Fever's 10th consecutive playoff appearance and had 25 points and nine boards in Saturday's victory that locked up the second seed in the East.

Head coach Lin Dunn has seen the difference in a more rested Catchings, who at 35 is still the Fever's clear go-to player.

"When she's fresh and rested and we've monitored her minutes on the sideline, she can do the things that she did when she was 25," Dunn said.

On a WNBA conference call earlier on Tuesday afternoon, ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck listed the Fever as a team to watch in the postseason, saying "Indiana is a team that's unpredictable because of the will of Tamika Catchings."

Not only is Catchings' will unmatched you'd be hard-pressed to find a better competitor or leader in any sport she has been playing at as high a level as any player in the league over the last 10 days.

The Fever are heading into the postseason playing sharp as a team, but for Indiana to replicated 2012's title run, the team will need Tamika Catchings to be at her absolute best. If recent form is any indicator, Catchings and the Fever will be major players in the 2014 playoffs.

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