One thing is for sure about the Indiana Fever’s 2016 schedule – from the time it opens May 14 until the time the regular season closes Sept. 18, there is guaranteed to be something new, different, newsworthy or significant with virtually every date on the schedule.
As happens every four years, the league will break for roughly a month during a break to accommodate the 2016 Olympics. And in what is the final season of longtime star Tamika Catchings, nearly every road game will be logged as part of a farewell tour, of sorts.
But also this season, the WNBA has altered its schedule format. In short, every team will play every other team three times – plus one team in its own conference, a fourth time. That is a change from past years when the Fever would play just one home game and one road game against teams from the Western Conference. Now, fans will get to see top players from the West with the same regularity as players from the East.
PHOTOS: 2016 Fever Schedule »»
“We have more competitive balance in the schedule,” said Fever President & GM Kelly Krauskopf, “instead of having such a large concentration of games within your conference. What I like is it gives fans a chance to see more teams and more marquee players in your market.”
How will the team fare in 2016 and can we expect a 12th consecutive playoff bid to begin in late September? Those questions will have to wait for free agency and player movement to evolve in the coming months, and of course the annual rookie draft in April.
But for now, a week-to-week jaunt into the 2016 season …
The Fever schedule opens on May 14, the earliest Indiana has ever played a regular season game (by one day; the 2010 schedule opened on May 15). Unique about the game, though, is that Indiana will host the Dallas Wings in their first game since relocating from Tulsa.
[Ironic is that the Fever also hosted the Shock/Wings franchise in its last game representing Detroit, prior to moving to Tulsa. A landmark win for the Indiana franchise, the Fever beat the Detroit Shock on Sept. 26, 2009, to advance to the WNBA Finals. The following spring, the Shock were in Tulsa.]
After Skylar Diggins and former Fever star Karima Christmas lead the newly branded Wings into Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Phoenix and Atlanta visit in the same week to mark the longest season-opening homestand in franchise history. It is the first of three, three-game homestands in 2016, matching the longest of the season.
It also represents the first time in franchise history to begin a season with three straight home dates.
The Mercury’s visit on Wednesday, May 18 is the first of two Phoenix appearances in Indy. Phoenix and West foes Dallas and Seattle each will visit The Fieldhouse twice, marking the first time that West teams have appeared twice in Indiana during the regular season. One of the plusses to the new balanced schedule is that fans will have the opportunity to see marquee players from the West with greater frequency.
FIRST ROAD GAMES
With the opening homestand in the rearview mirror, a new phenomenon will greet the Fever. During most road games in 2016, similar to the 2014 season when Lin Dunn concluded her coaching career, future-hall-of-famer Tamika Catchings will be received warmly as part of her final season farewell.
At Minnesota on May 27, that distinction will wait, as the Fever also travel to Minneapolis in June – another example of East vs. West balanced scheduling. But at Atlanta on May 29, the farewell tour begins as Catchings will appear at Philips Arena in Atlanta for the 12th time in the regular season; and her 15th and final appearance overall (pending 2016 playoffs, of course).
As the schedule continues on June 1, Seattle and rookie of the year Jewell Loyd visit The Fieldhouse on the first of two occasions. Indiana then ventures to traditional East rivals New York and Connecticut, June 3 and 5, for the first of two visits in each of those cities.
FEVER VS. LIBERTY: FOUR-GAME SERIES
The New York matchup presents a rematch of last year’s East Finals – possibly the last Eastern Conference Finals in a very long time due to the league’s new playoff format. The Fever and Liberty will battle four times in 2016 with two games at Madison Square Garden and two games in Indy – and with newly added appeal since the Big Apple departure of free agent Shavonte Zellous.
CONSECUTIVE GAMES VS. MVP, ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AND CHAMPS
Reigning MVP Elena Della Donne visits Indianapolis on June 10, and Loyd and the Storm return on June 12 before the Catchings farewell tour visits Minnesota for a date on ESPN2, June 14. On June 17, Indiana visits San Antonio for the first of two visits to another West city.
LIBERTY PRECEDE DALLAS HOMECOMING AND 6 OF 7 ON ROAD
Zellous, Tina Charles, Bill Laimbeer and the Liberty make their debut at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on June 19, prior to a span of six road dates in seven games. Dates in Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix and Seattle will represent stops on the Catchings farewell tour.
The Dallas date is much more than just the third stop on the farewell tour, however. It is, in fact, a homecoming of sorts, as Catchings will actually play her FIRST game in the Dallas Metro area where she graduated from Duncanville High School in 1997. It will be the first, last and ONLY time she plays professionally in her high school hometown.
It also will be the 29th different arena, and 24th different city, in which Catchings and the Fever have ever played.
Road bouts at Phoenix, July 8, and Seattle, July 10 – less than two weeks from the Olympic Break, pit Catchings against fellow USA tri-captains from 2012, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. The trio will bid for their USA Basketball record-tying fourth Olympic gold medals while in Rio. In Phoenix, the Catchings vs. Taurasi matchup pairs the second- and third-leading scorers in WNBA history.
THREE-GAME HOMESTAND AND OLYMPIC BREAK
A second three-game homestand greets the Fever on a return to Indianapolis, July 13-19 – beginning with the Fever’s annual Kids Day, against Connecticut, and capped with a second ESPN2 date, against Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks. The pre-Olympic portion of the schedule ends with a day game at New York on Thursday, July 21.
What to do during the break? Don’t fret, Fever fans … players and coaches will be active in community activities during the 36-day break from competition! Besides tracking Catchings, Natalie Achonwa (Canada) and possibly Briann January during the two-week Olympics event in South America, Stephanie White and her team will be accessible during their preparation for the schedule’s last ten games.
WELCOME BACK FROM RIO AND CATCH THE STARS NIGHT
Ten remaining games of post-Olympic play begin with a bang on Saturday, Aug. 27 when Washington comes to town to open the season’s last three-game homestand.
The date with the Mystics is a dual promotional night with Catchings the common denominator. The Fever’s “Welcome Back Game” welcomes players returning from Olympic action and, specifically for Tamika, it also will be “Catch The Stars Night,” an annual night dedicated to raising funds for the Catch The Stars Foundation.
6 OF 10 AT THE FIELDHOUSE, NATIONAL TV FINALE
With playoff seeding at stake for the league’s new 12-team playoff format, the Fever will play six of its last ten games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Following the bout with the Mystics, Indiana hosts Taurasi Phoenix a second time, Aug. 30; and then the vaunted Liberty on Sept. 1
Catchings will play her final games in Los Angeles and San Antonio, Sept. 4 and 6, respectively, prior to a home date with Chicago, Sept. 9. The farewell tour visits Verizon Center in Washington, Sept. 11, where Catchings has recorded more road wins and played in more road games (16-10 regular season; 17-10 overall) than any arena in her career.
Indiana visits Connecticut for the 20th time in Catchings’ regular season career (24th overall), on Sept. 13, prior to the Fever playing host to Fan Appreciation Night and Catchings’ final regular season home game in a furious final weekend.
Fittingly, the Fever will honor its fans in a festive next-to-last-home-game Fan Appreciation Night on Friday, Sept. 16 when Indiana hosts the Lynx; leaving the regular season finale to honor the longtime face-of-the-franchise Catchings when Dallas returns on Sunday the 18th for a 4:00 p.m. tip to be televised on ESPN2.
Might a 13th year of playoffs – for Indiana and for Catchings – follow the 34-game schedule? Stay tuned.