Indiana Ignores Its Seed, Seeks Another Title

By Tom Rietmann | September 17, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- To repeat as WNBA champions in 2013, the Indiana Fever will have to rewrite a page of the league's history book.

After rising from the ashes of a 1-7 start and battling injuries throughout this season, the Fever will go into the Eastern Conference playoffs this week as the circuit's No. 4 seed. No team has ever won a league title from that position. Only two No. 4 seeds have made it to the WNBA Finals.

If Indiana's players are concerned about that piece of information, they're not letting on. Their 2013 goal, quite simply, has been to push through the injury-wracked times and get into the postseason somehow, some way.

“Honestly, we never really looked at 1 through 4,” said Tamika Catchings, who was MVP of last year's WNBA Finals when Indiana knocked off Minnesota. “Our mentality this year was, let's just continue to get better and let's make the playoffs.

“We just look at it as an opportunity. (It is) zero-zero. Now we have to go out there and play ball like we know how.”

It starts Friday night when Indiana visits Chicago to open a best-of-three series against the Sky in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Indiana, which will host Game 2 on Sunday afternoon, completed the regular season at 16-18. Chicago, the No. 1 seed in the East, went 24-10.

The Fever won three of four games against Chicago in the regular season, including one by 21 points. That series outcome -- plus the fact Indiana is in the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season and Chicago made it for the first time -- could bode well for the Fever.

“We're not going to worry about what seed we are,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said. “We're just going to play the best we can play.

“I don't think anybody wants to play the Indiana Fever. When you look at how we've done with eight people (because of the injuries). I think we played five games with eight people. We have playoff experience. We have championship experience. We have Tamika Catchings, and now we have Katie Douglas. I think everybody knows that we can be dangerous in a short series.”

With Dunn managing her players' floor time and manipulating the lineup to get through 2013's tough stretches, Indiana now moves into the playoffs with the healthiest roster it has had in months.

Douglas missed most of the regular season with a back injury. But, after returning for the final two games, she is rounding into form and enters the postseason with a 15-point scoring average.

“She has that scoring mentality,” Dunn said about Douglas. “We've had to win a lot of games just with our defense. Hopefully, now, we can win with our defense and have a little bit more firepower.”

Indiana's defense led the WNBA, holding opponents to a 70.5 scoring average. Indiana's offense sometimes struggled, averaging 70.8 to rank 11th of 12 teams.

Indiana will likely need all the points it can muster against Chicago. The Sky has three of the league's top scorers in Elena Delle Donne (18.1), Sylvia Fowles (16.3) and Epiphanny Prince (15.0). Delle Donne probably will be named the league's Rookie of the Year and ranks as an MVP candidate. Fowles, too, is an MVP possibility after leading the WNBA in rebounding at 11.5 a game.

“Looking at the regular season,” Catchings said, referring to Indiana's 3-1 mark against the Sky, “everybody is like, 'You've got Chicago's number.' But I think Chicago is a great team. What Delle Donne brings to that team … she plays with so much poise as a rookie.”

Last year, Indiana won its league title after entering the playoffs as the East's No. 2 seed. Twice before, the Fever has been a No. 4 seed. The team lost both series.

Typically, a defending champion would be the hunted when the next season's playoffs begin. In Indiana's case, in light of what the club had to overcome just to make the postseason, its role will be that of the hunter.

“We know this is the second season,” Dunn said, noting her team's preparedness. “The playoffs are here. Intensity is heightened. Every possession is gold. Everybody is hustling a little bit harder. We know. We've been there. We know what it takes in the playoffs.”

Catchings echoed her coach's words.

“The confidence we've built throughout the season should shine now,” the Fever star said. “Now is the time for us to be playing at our best.”