INDIANAPOLIS – Statistics reflected the one-sided nature of the Indiana-Chicago season series. And the Fever found themselves on the unpleasant side of those numbers against the Sky.
However, to suggest the Fever will head into their playoffs matchup against Chicago under a cloud of doubt and distress wouldn’t be accurate. As Indiana forward Tamika Catchings said, it’s the postseason, a fresh start, and “it’s zero-zero right now.”
In other words, time to hit the reset button.
“We don’t go in with a chip on our shoulder,” Catchings said after Tuesday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “We don’t go in thinking about the last time we played them. We go in thinking about this time and this opportunity that’s in front of us.”
The third-seeded Fever will travel to second-seeded Chicago for Thursday night’s opener of the best-of-three series in the WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals. And after traveling a bumpy road against the Sky this season – losing all four games – the Fever are looking to take a detour to better results.
“We have to do a better job of locking in on the things that were deficient in those games,” Indiana Coach Stephanie White said. “We can’t turn the ball over and allow them to get easy buckets. We can’t allow them second and third opportunities on offensive rebounds. We have to have that much more attention to detail on the defensive end in our coverages against their sets.
“If we can clean up three areas from our games with Chicago,” White added, “then we give ourselves a chance to win.”
The stats told the regular-season tale. Chicago averaged 95.5 points in its four 2015 victories over Indiana, winning by an average margin of 19.7. The Sky shot 51.3 percent from the field while holding the Fever to 36.9 percent.
Chicago star Elena Delle Donne averaged 22 points and 9 rebounds against Indiana. She compiled a 23.4 scoring average for the season, shooting 46 percent from the field and 31.3 percent on 3-pointers.
Delle Donne, at 6-foot-5, is a matchup nightmare for opponents.
“If you guard her with a guard, she takes you down and tries to exploit you on the block or shoots over the top of you,” White said. “If you guard her with a post, she takes you on the perimeter and attacks you off the dribble. She’s an MVP frontrunner for a reason.”
The 6-1 Catchings, who missed two of the four regular-season meetings against Chicago, will likely draw a lot of time as the defender on Delle Donne. Catchings, a five-time winner of the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, described herself as fired up about the challenge.
“I love being able to guard the best players on a team,” she said.
“She’s just such a great player,” Catchings added about Delle Donne. “I think (Chicago Coach Pokey Chatman) does a great job of making sure she gets touches and that they put her in a position to be successful.”
The Sky advanced to the WNBA Finals last year after defeating Indiana in the conference finals. Chicago added a new player this year in 10th-year veteran Cappie Pondexter, acquiring her from New York. She has provided the Sky with 15.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
And she’s provided something else, too.
“I think Cappie brings a swagger, a swagger that this is a team that belongs,” White said, also praising Pondexter’s leadership.
An interesting matchup to watch could be at point guard, where the Fever’s Brian January will battle Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot. The latter led the WNBA in assists with 5.8 per game. Vandersloot, whom White described as “efficent” and “heady,” also raised her scoring mark this season to 11.4 from 6.8 last year.
But White knows that January, like Catchings, will embrace all challenges against tough opponents.
“She’s not only our floor leader on offense, but she sets the tone on defense,” White said after January returned from a sore knee and played a big part in the regular-season finale against New York, an 81-76 Indiana victory. “She really establishes the way we play on both ends of the floor.”
It helps the Fever, too, that Shavonte Zellous ramped up her play as the team won its last two regular-season games. In those two games, she hit 11-of-17 field goals, scored 36 points and totaled eight assists.
In 2012, when Indiana won the WNBA championship, Zellous played a major role, averaging 10.6 points in the playoffs. More of the same this postseason – with Zellous typically coming off the bench – would suit the Fever nicely.
White likes Zellous’ style and guile when she is playing her best.
“She can push, but she’s always under control,” White said after the New York game. “She knows when to turn on the jets, so to speak, in going to the rim and when to pull it back. It’s part of her experience.”
Indiana has plenty of strengths both offensively and defensively, including the best 3-point mark in the league (36 percent) and the most forced turnovers (16.2 per game). But the Fever (20-14) know they’ll have to perform with the proper balance of fast-paced offense and tough-minded defense to beat Chicago (21-13).
“We know,” White said, “that we have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
Coach White, Catchings, and January discuss the pending playoff matchup after practice –