Commentary

Can Fever finally score first win of season over Sun?

Updated: August 20, 2007, 5:35 PM ET
By Graham Hays | ESPN.com

Since Brian Winters took over coaching duties for the Indiana Fever before the 2004 season, the team is 75-36 against those teams in the league not based in Connecticut.

Margo Dydek
Jessica Hill /AP PhotoIndiana should look to get the Sun's 7-foot-2 center, Margo Dydek, into foul trouble.

Against the Sun in that same span, the Fever have managed just a 3-12 record in the regular season, including an 0-4 mark this season, and an 0-2 record in the postseason.

And most of those games involved a healthy Tamika Catchings, a luxury the Fever are all but guaranteed not to have this time around, whether or not the perennial MVP candidate is able to play some role in this series after tearing her plantar fascia in July.

Under the league's dubious first-round format, lower-seeded teams do themselves a big favor by making use of the gift of opening at home. Of the eight first-round series in the last two postseasons, only third-seeded Houston against second-seeded Seattle in 2005 forced as much as a decisive third game after losing the opening game at home. But winning the opener is even more of an imperative for a Sun team that struggled to an 8-8 record at Mohegan Sun Arena this season. With so much potential mental baggage on the line, from Connecticut's historical mastery of Indiana to the Sun's own up-and-down season and the Fever's postseason psyche with or without Catchings, Game 1 of the series will set a potentially insurmountable tone.

For Connecticut to win

The Sun might be best described as a defensive-minded team that scores a lot of points, but offensive execution will be critical against a great defensive opponent.

Throughout their run as a championship contender during Mike Thibault's tenure, the Sun have relied on an offensive attack as balanced as any in the league. They remain diversified on that end of the court this season, entering the playoffs with four players averaging in double figures for the fourth time in the last five years, but the current team occasionally leaves you wondering if someone will step up on a given night this season, rather than wondering which player will take her turn on a given night.

The Sun's top four scorers this season are shooting 43.5 percent from the floor, down nearly 4 percent from last season. Both power forward Asjha Jones (who spent the final days of the regular season nursing a high ankle sprain) and center Margo Dydek are good offensive players, but both also do a lot of their damage outside the paint. Without Taj Mc-Williams Franklin drawing attention in the post, all of the Sun's remaining key contributors receive fewer open looks and take more contested shots.

And as balanced as they are, the Sun still need Katie Douglas to come up big after a slow August in which she shot just 37 percent from the floor. The Sun are 8-4 when Douglas scores 20 points and 13-7 when she reaches at least her season average of 16 points, but they have to hope her efforts playing heavy minutes for a team that lacked much bench consistency until late in the season haven't worn her out. She is the team's offensive leader and its defensive stopper, and Connecticut isn't going far without her.

For Indiana to win

It will obviously help if Catchings can play even a limited role for the Fever, but that appears to be anything but a given with an injury that even the star, one of the fiercest competitors in the game, admits can't be rushed and which has limited her to pool work until only recently.

But if winning ugly is the task at hand, few teams are better equipped than Indiana.

The Fever are a defensive juggernaut, leading the league in scoring defense and trailing only the Shock in field-goal defense this season. Even without Catchings, last season's defensive player of the year and a leading candidate for the award every summer, Indiana's defense limited opponents to an average of 69.7 points in the final 13 games, which was no more generous than with Catchings in the lineup for the first 21 games. At their best, the Fever give everyone but the scoreboard operator a workout on each possession.

Unfortunately for the Fever, no matter what lineup was in place, Indiana was unable to slow Connecticut in four meetings, allowing an average of nearly 78 points and twice allowing the Sun to shoot 50 percent from the field for a game. To turn that around, the Fever must find ways to slow Connecticut's trio of Lindsay Whalen, Nykesha Sales and Douglas, all of whom present catch-up problems for Indiana's smaller backcourt and wing players.

On the offensive end, getting Dydek out of the game changes Connecticut's defense and opens up the lane for post players and players driving to the basket. For the Fever, that means Tammy Sutton-Brown, who cooled off slightly after a hot June and July, must herself stay out of foul trouble while engaging Dydek on both ends. When the Fever lost by three to the Sun last Wednesday, the smallest margin in the four games between the teams, Sutton-Brown had 19 points and no fouls to Dydek's four points and four fouls.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.