The Indiana Fever may need to put on their road warrior caps in order to keep pace in the WNBA playoff hunt. With regard to this year’s new playoff format, one thing is for sure – ALL games matter. That’s not to say they haven’t mattered in the past, but instead of competing with six teams for just four playoff spots, now every team is battling with 12 for 8.
Same ratio, yes, but the balanced schedule and new playoff format mean that East teams like the Fever now must be mindful of six other teams from the West. Minnesota (11-0) and Los Angeles (10-0) both remain unbeaten. In years past, those would have been against mostly West opponents. Now, those losses will be spread more evenly 10 other teams and finishing 4th in the East won’t be good enough for a playoff spot if the No. 5 team in the West has a better record.
What does that mean for Indiana? It means that its next nine games (8 of 10 on the road counting Tuesday’s loss at Minnesota) are crucial – crucial for momentum, crucial for playoff positioning when the league breaks for the Olympics in late July.
Time for panic? Heck, no. Indiana currently sits at 4-7, though, and a poor road trip would put the Fever on its heels with just 10 games to play after the break. In fact, even a 5-5 stretch need be considered a success as Indiana navigates trips to Minnesota, San Antonio, Washington, Dallas, Chicago, L.A., Phoenix and Seattle sandwiched around single home dates with New York (Sunday) and San Antonio (Friday, July 1).
If Indiana were 9-11 following this three-week, coast-to-coast trek of games, it could close the pre-Olympic portion of its schedule with momentum following three home games and a final game at New York, July 21.
It is important the Fever keep pace (near .500) now, during the most difficult part of its schedule, so that it can fine-tune its game in September, rather than still trying to gel.
And what better time to gel, than being on the road?
You see, when teams are on the road for an extended stretch, distractions are minimized. Basketball players think, eat and breathe basketball – with less daily and immediate concern for tickets, families, friends and nightly entertainment options. Being on the road can have a very decided positive effect of uniting a team in its common goals.
Last season, the Fever were 12-9 before four straight West Coast wins catapulted Indiana into a certain playoff spot. In the playoffs, the Fever were competitive in Game 1 road losses at both Chicago and New York, then responded with home and road victories to steal each series.
To be successful on the road doesn’t always have to equate solely to wins or win streaks. Being competitive, and bonding as a unit, is what matters most, often resulting in as many wins as losses. Road trips can breed toughness. Road trips can develop maturity. Road trips truly can help build a greater sense of “team.”
As the Indiana lineup adapts to the return of Briann January and Shenise Johnson within the past four games, now is the time for the Fever to come together as a cohesive unit.
“We are a team on a journey, a journey to find cohesiveness,” said head coach Stephanie White after last Sunday’s home loss to Seattle. “We have to find our rotations and we have to find cohesion on both ends of the floor. That is going to take time, and I’m ok with that. But what we can’t have is lack of effort!”
After Tuesday’s road loss against the unbeaten, world-beating Lynx, White praised the team’s effort, despite the outcome. Surely, the Fever are in need of re-creating some of its timing and chemistry on both ends of the floor. Being on the road may be just the remedy.