INDIANAPOLIS -- As the WNBA begins the season's second half, the Indiana Fever seeks improved team health and some consistent shooting. Those factors alone could go a long way toward propelling the defending league champions to their ninth consecutive playoff appearance.
First, the latest news on injuries.
Indiana is hopeful that it will soon regain the services of Jeanette Pohlen, possibly even this week with games scheduled at Connecticut on Thursday and at home against Chicago on Saturday. Pohlen, a long-range shooter and sound all-around player, is coming back from major knee surgery. The third-year guard from Stanford says she's ready to go.
Right now, I feel great, Pohlen said after Tuesday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Whenever they need me, whenever they're ready, I'm ready. I'm just going to keep working every day and getting my stamina back to a team speed and game pace.
Pohlen says her shooting touch is intact. She led the WNBA as a 2011 rookie with a 46.8 percentage on 3-pointers. She hit 42 percent of her treys in 2012, playing a key role in the Fever's push to the league title before she suffered her knee injury late in the playoffs.
As she began her comeback in practice sessions earlier this season, Pohlen made up her mind not to fear on-court collisions.
Driving to the hoop, I take the contact, she said. I try to go into the contact to make it game-like.
Pohlen, who was dealing with her first major injury, admits there were mentally difficult times as she conducted her off-season rehabilitation. Then, on Dec. 23 of last year, her father John died after battling a lung disease known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
John, who coached basketball at both the high school and college levels, was a driving force and the inspiration behind Jeanette's decorated career. She now wears a bracelet to show her support for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation and to honor her father.
Just a lot of emotions, Pohlen said when asked about the past winter. I had a rough offseason.
It was good to be home with my family and train and just be in the comfort of my home in California. Being back here just gets me excited and ready to go for this season. Once I get back (playing), hopefully I can bring something to the team.
With Pohlen's return appearing imminent, Indiana also is hopeful that guard Erin Phillips' knee responds and she can play pain-free. Phillips underwent arthroscopic surgery earlier this season and returned to game action recently, but the knee continues to flare up.
We're just going to hope that down the stretch, we have both Erin Phillips and Jeanette Pohlen ready, Fever Coach Lin Dunn said. If we can get them healthy, then I think we can make a run for a playoff spot.
Indiana needs to improve its shooting, and Phillips and Pohlen potentially can supply that help. Meantime, a return date for veteran guard Katie Douglas, who has a back injury, remains uncertain. Douglas has been one of the team's top scorers since her acquisition in 2008.
The Fever is 8-9 and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, good for the final playoff spot if the team finishes there. Indiana concluded the 2013 season's first half with seven victories in nine games, getting it done largely with strong defensive efforts as the club struggled with its field goal marksmanship.
Indiana is next-to-last in WNBA scoring (69.6 per game) and last in shooting (38.6 percent). A positive sign for Indiana surfaced in its last game of the first half, a 71-60 victory at Tulsa, where the Fever connected on 46.3 percent from the field for its second-best outing of the season.
Now the schedule will get much tougher. After playing 17 games in 63 days in the first half, the Fever faces 17 games in 46 days in the second half -- including 10 on the road. The team opens the second half with five games in 10 days.
Our schedule the second half is brutal, Dunn said. The one good thing is, we do have our system in, our sets offensively and our schemes defensively. Even though we won't practice a lot, at least we're not going to be doing anything new. It's just a matter of refreshing what we're going to do.
Last year, Indiana faced an even more condensed second half, playing 17 games in 39 days. The Fever responded with a 12-5 record that set the tone for its run to the league championship.
If you look back, during that period of time last year, we were totally healthy, Dunn said. I think right now, when you look at the teams that are at the top, they're probably the teams that have had the fewest injuries.
Indiana wants to be one of those teams in the second half.