The Indiana Fever certainly had a remarkable amount of momentum going into the Olympic break, winning five of their last six contests, including three victories over teams ahead of them in the league standings (Atlanta Dream, Los Angeles Sparks, and New York).
Forward Lynetta Kizer is an example of the high level at which the Fever were playing. She scored in double figures in each of those six games and added a career-high 21-point scoring effort against New York.
Marissa Coleman showcased one of her best games of the season against New York, adding a season-high 14 points.
Veteran point guard Briann January was only one assist shy of her second career double-double just before the break, scoring 12 points and dishing nine assists on July 19 against Los Angeles.
And after injuries forced her out of competition early in the season, Shenise Johnson was finally looking healthy again, averaging 11 points per game in the final five games before the break.
“We’ve finally started to gel as a team,” said Fever head coach Stephanie White. “We were finally healthy and really hit a stride where we were playing well on both ends of the floor. We have to use that momentum, even though we do have this break, to give us some confidence in our schemes and some combinations, and we hope to pick that up when we return.”
When the WNBA broke for the Olympics in 2012, the then-10-7 Fever squad returned to finish the regular season 22-12 and went on to win the WNBA Finals.
The 2012 Olympic break proved to be a tremendous opportunity for growth, especially for Fever center Erlana Larkins, who played minimal minutes off the bench before the break. During the break, Larkins was aided by filling Tamika Catchings’ role while she competed in the London Olympics. The result was an explosive performance from Larkins in the first game back, when she scored a career-high 16 points to lead the Fever over Washington (8/16). Larkins continued to improve, and in the last two games of the regular season, earned her first two starts with the Fever. She went on to start 9-of-10 playoff games that year, where she averaged 10.9 rebounds and 9.9 points per game.
Is there a Fever player who will benefit from the added reps in 2016? White thinks a lot of players have benefited from the break.
“Any time you get an opportunity to give Tiff [Tiffany Mitchell] extra reps, as a rookie, I think it’s important. The break has given her a chance to work on a lot of different things. It’s also an opportunity for Dev [Devereaux Peters] to get healthy after her surgery,” said White. “And no question when you can get rest, as well as shots and reps for veterans like Shenise and Marissa, it’s a big opportunity since they have struggled with their shooting. We know we’re a much better team when they both shoot the ball well.”
Of course, the Fever’s Olympians worked hard during their time in Rio as well. Catchings averaged 3.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game for Team USA in her final Olympics. Natalie Achonwa added five points and 2.8 rebounds per game for Canada.
According to White, the Fever will need to maintain a high level of defense to be successful on August 27 when they resume the season against Washington at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We have to be aggressive and destructive on the defensive end of the floor,” said White. “We have to pay attention to detail on the defensive end of the floor. We see a clear difference in our wins and losses – when we’re locked in on ‘D,’ it certainly affects everything that we do.”
If Indiana can keep building on the momentum they had before the break, it sure will be an exciting race to the playoffs.